Egad! My computer offered the latest temperature prediction: though it was 68 degrees now, the mercury would plummet to 28 degrees tonight, followed by – gulp! - 23 degrees tomorrow and Saturday- an incredible 40-degree dive!
Rats! I’d need to buy frost blankets, then lay them while battling gusty 25-30 mile-per-hour winds. Emerging plants - especially my infant hostas, the two thalictrums and the four old fashioned hydrangeas, whose buds would probably freeze and drop off, anyway - would be grateful. (Four 90-degree March days had fooled everybody into growing like stink.)
Alas, Stella magnolia’s lovely blossoms would not survive this. Oh, well.
I left a local nursery with an armload of 5’x 50’ wisp-thin blankets, plus a fat box of garden pins, and Les and I struggled to cover all the vulnerable foliage while gusts tried to blow the delicate sheets to China. It was deep night before the wind finally diminished. The temperature read 28 degrees at 4 a.m., precisely as predicted.
The tender foliage had coped. Barely. Tonight, though, makes me really pale. 23 degrees! That sort of cold burns.
As we paused from our labor to enjoy a cup of tea in the late afternoon sunlight in the main secret garden, Juliet Mallard (I always dub visiting lovey-dovey ducks as ‘Romeo’ and ‘Juliet’), who’d been snoozing in a sun-warmed, water-filled crease in my huge fountain cover, woke, yawned, wing-stretched, and quacked downy-soft chuckles to her love, who was always inches away. Suddenly she stiffened and looked around more carefully. AWK!! Romeo was gone!
I’d stumbled over these lovebirds for days, overhearing their murmured endearments. He’d been her shadow. Now, though, she quacked loudly, then leaped out of the watered crease and onto the grass, alarmed. “Where’d you go? Where ARE you??”
Then, she looked right up at us and quacked that same question. My neck hair rose.
“We haven’t seen him,” we said, palms open, heads shaking, and, wilting with disappointment, she circled the big fountain, orange feet flapping through the long grass, neck extended, wings half-open, calling. No Romeo. She flapped through nearby flowerbeds, calling, calling, and even searched the sky for predators, or his silhouette. No sign. Rushing back to us she peered waaay up at 6’4” Les, asking one more time: “Are you sure you haven’t seen him?” We repeated ourselves. Trust me: that duck understood, from our tones and expressions, that we were clueless. She rushed up the walk and brushed by our legs, eyes wide, beak open, voice cracking with anxiety. We felt upset, too, and riveted by this ducky drama.
Here’s the thing: Juliet was speaking. Pitch, intensity and volume clearly conveyed her distress, confusion and, yes, fear.
Romeo was never absent.
Juliet crossed the lawn into the Library Garden’s beds, peering under foliage, her quacks ringing through the property. She was near panic. Had a hawk snatched him?
Suddenly we heard a whoosh! Romeo, resplendent in his gorgeous emerald plumage, flew right over the North Gate, settled into the lush strawberry patch by the kitchen tower about 50 feet away from us, and quacked loud, masculine reassurance: “I’m here!”
Juliet’s whole demeanor changed. We pointed the way, and she rushed across the garden toward him, her quacks suddenly tender. Very soft, continuous chuckles conveyed her relief. She smiled. Scoff if you want to, but that duck smiled. Her whole body relaxed. She looked so happy! They nuzzled. Her world made sense again. There were no recriminations, no cold shoulder, no icy eyes or accusatory glares. Just affection. Cold garden, warm hearts.
We decided he’d sneaked across the street to Hannah Park to indulge in a quick Boardman River paddle and a worm dinner before flying back, reasoning she’d never know he was gone. Five minutes sooner and he’d have been right.
Honestly, we were gobsmacked. Ducks do talk, but this duck-to-people exchange seemed, well, a little bit magical.
Knowing my shivering plants had warm blankets, I burrowed under my own down comforter at bedtime, reliving that uncanny, delightful five minutes.
Life sometimes drops jeweled moments right in front of us, if we’re very, very lucky.
**More animal adventures can be found in my book, The View From Sunnybank, sold at Horizon Books in Traverse City.