Like many authors, nature inspires my writing. As I sit by my pond on a warm May day, I note the chickadees flitting in the cedars, the cat bird gathering twigs for her nest, and the male wren singing his heart out to attract a mate. Last week a mallard duck swam peacefully on the pond, snacking on the weed below his paddling feet. His mate searched for titbits in the cattails. They don’t nest here, but rather in a marshy area tucked up against the neighbouring woods. But every spring, they touch down in our pond for a quick dip or two.
Memories of past year sightings also inspire my stories. Every time I spot the mallards, I remember the time my mother sat reading her book under the big umbrella. The ducks quietly glided into the pond and floated a dozen feet away from her still and silent form. They took turns diving for pond weed in their bottoms-up fashion, and then bobbing up to search for other morsels inches away.
All was calm and amusing, my mother recounted later, until another male mallard suddenly swooped in and landed close by. Within seconds, a duck squabble arose with much splashing, honking, and flapping of wings. My mother remained rooted to her chair, but the female mallard just swam into the cattails and waited for the intruder to leave, which of course he did after a few moments of mayhem. Then the pair returned to their foraging until the male honked it was time to go. Up they glided, off to their night-time abode, after which my mother closed her droplet-spattered book and headed for the house to tell her tale of the duck fight on the pond.
“It’s hard to read at the pond,” she said. “There’s more drama going on down there than in my book.” I agree. Better to bring binoculars and watch the birds in May and June. Soon enough, the mating and raising of young will be over, but then the butterflies will arrive and grace the button bushes and the Joe Pye weed. So for now, when by the pond, I watch, listen, take notes, and save what I’ve absorbed for the long indoor months when the pond chairs and big umbrella are stored in the shed.
(this piece was originally published by Northumberland Festival of the Arts)