The Day After Christmas
It’s the dusk on the day after Christmas. I’m hiding at the edge of Miller Pond, waiting for the wood ducks to come in.
You’d laugh if you saw me. I’m in camo and a dark ski mask. I’m sitting in a fold-up chair, trying not to move at all. It’s time for the wood ducks to arrive.
Don’t worry that I’m breaking the law and “roost hunting.” I have no desire to shoot at the hundred or so ducks landing here. I’m here to watch them, listen to them, and just enjoy them.
These ducks know they are safe on the north end of Miller Pond. Five houses, including mine, surround the pond. No one hunts them, so they feel no danger when they come crashing in at dark each evening.
I’ve quietly slipped up on the pond and staked my claim to a spot to sit deathly still and watch the ducks arrive.
The wood duck is my favorite waterfowl. In my opinion, it’s the most beautiful bird. The male drake is beyond description with its swirling palette of bright colors.
This evening, I’ll have difficulty seeing their colors. Wood ducks arrive at their nightly safe roost spot as close to dark as possible.
The next morning they’ll leave in a flutter of wings at the hint of daylight. They’ll spend their day in creeks and ponds eating acorns and seeds.
This afternoon I felt drawn to the wood duck hole. It probably had something to do with it being the day after Christmas. Our family had returned from my wife’s parents. All of our Christmas doings were over.
As always, I’d had enough Christmas to last me until next year for sure. In fact, I’ll go ahead and be real honest: I’m glad the Christmas season is over. And I bet if you’re honest, you’ll agree that we all have Christmas overload by now: too much food, drink, eggnog, gatherings, music, etc.
It’s time to return to the normal pace of life. I need to get outside and hear the wood ducks squeal.
This in no way diminishes that I’ve enjoyed Christmas. It is a wonderful holiday and I love every moment of it.
However, our body, mind, and soul can only take so much adrenaline, sugar-driven celebration. Now it’s time to shift gears and return toward a more normal life.
My normal life is always re-discovered with being outside in nature. It’s why I was drawn to visit the wood duck hole.
The great naturalist John Muir said it so well, “Come to the woods—for here is rest.”
The first pair of ducks comes swooping in. They make a loud splash as they hit the water and swim about. They are quickly joined by others—mostly pairs, triples, and such.
A flock of four swings overhead. I love the beautiful sound of their wings jet-swooshing, tilting back and forth to slow their descent.
I always wonder how anyone could not believe in God after watching a bird fly.
The landing runway on Miller Pond is open with only small clumps of bushes and a few trees. The arriving wood ducks drop out of the sky, avoiding these obstacles as they splash to a happy landing.
Three ducks land thirty feet from my seat. It’s too dark to see their colors but I catch their silhouette and recognize two as drakes by their larger hooded heads. They swim nervously in circles sensing my presence until they quickly disappear into the weeds.
There are enough wood ducks on the water now for the party to start—all manner of winging, flapping, squawking, squealing, and splashing. The drab-colored hens make the shrill eerie call that gives this breed its nickname of “squealers.”
This squeal is hard to describe or replicate. I’ve used all type of wood duck calls—from store-bought to homemade ones, from shotgun shells and referee whistles. It’s nearly impossible to replicate this sound of the woods.
The female ducks are calling loudly to the approaching flights of birds. It’s as if they are saying, “Come on in, the water is fine.” The approaching flocks call back.
The largest flock of the evening, eight birds, comes barreling in. They hit the water and I wonder where they spent the day after Christmas. Maybe on Monroe Harper’s pond, on a slough in Dry Creek swamp, or in a rice field near Kinder.
The evening’s wood duck traffic slows to a crawl, but I sit a little longer. A sense of serenity settles over my soul. It’s as if I needed to wash the gritty grime of the busy holiday season off of my soul, and being among the wood ducks is a good place to begin.
Finally I fold my chair and leave. The ducks are quiet—they’re getting ready for a good night’s rest in the safety of Miller Pond.
After a lifetime of hunting wood ducks, I am just as satisfied to see them, enjoy them, and watch them. And why would I want to shoot at these Miller Pond ducks? If I did that, tomorrow evening’s show would not take place.
Besides, they’re special guests here, leasing space from Dan and Rose Manuel as well as Kenny and Marie Garst. It would be worse than rude to shoot a neighbor’s ducks.
I walk among my pines on the trail home. These trees were planted six years ago and I’m amazed at their growth. It’s muddy along the fire lane and my boots pick up the extra weight of the mud. I recall the lines of an old Marshall Tucker Band song,
“My idea of a good time is walking my property line
And knowing the mud on my boots is mine.”
I love those words, but I’m very aware that I don’t own this land. The bank and I own it together. In a few years, I do hope to have the deed on it, but even then I’ll not really own it. It is just on loan to my family and me from the Lord. It really belongs just as much to the wood ducks, deer, and rabbits that live on it. They and their ancestors were here long before me and they’ll be here when another family owns this tiny twenty acres that I so proudly call mine.
To the east, a full moon rises through the pines. I’ve been too busy with Christmas to observe what phase the moon is in. That’s too busy.
I have one final chore for this day after Christmas. I’ve made a pile of limbs and brush in our fire ring. I light it and pull up an overturned tub as the fire builds up. My yellow lab, Ivory, nuzzles up beside me.
The full moon has now risen higher in the sky. It has lost its yellow glow and larger perceived size as it has risen higher. The quietness of the night, the fire, the warmness of watching the ducks—all serve as a catalyst to wash peace over my soul.
Lord, thanks for a great Christmas. So many blessings to count.
But Lord, thank you that this busy time is over.
It’s time to return to a little sense of normalcy.
I can’t think of a better way than to watch the ducks fly in.
# # #
“Who owns Cross Creek? The redbirds, I think, more than I, for they will have their nests even in the face of delinquent mortgages.
It seems to me that the earth may be borrowed, but not bought. It may be used, but not owned. It gives itself in response to love and tending, offers its seasonal flowering and fruiting.
But we are tenants and not possessors, lovers, and not masters. Cross Creek belongs to the wind and the rain, to the sun and the seasons, to the cosmic secrecy of seed, and beyond all, to time . . . ”