The bigs were doing something they’d never done before near their huge stone nest on the hill above Quiet Pond. For Sally Mallard Duck and her friends, the woods surrounding the pond were full of danger. Sally hoped the bigs were building a safe shelter for the menagerie of vulnerable animals that called the pond home. Predators were always looking for delicacies and, of course, duck eggs were at the head of the list. Duck families had to be on constant vigil to protect hoped-for offspring from the devouring mouths of invaders. It was a miracle that any of them managed to make it into adulthood. When she was still a baby in the eggshell, her mother had used every trick she knew to protect Sally from egg-sucking enemies. And there were a lot of them living around the pond and along the river.
The small creek that fed the pond, continued to flow into a stream and on into the Deschutes River 50 yards or so to the south. Possum slid in and out of the pond’s undergrowth like oozing mud. Ducks had to be on the lookout for them. Badgers stumbled about like staggering lumps. Ducks had to be on the lookout for them. Raccoons crept over soft ground like dandelions floating in the air. Ducks had to be on the lookout for them. Owls swooped through the air like phantoms in the night. Even when ducks were safely hidden in their nests, they still had to keep on the lookout for owls. Weasels and snakes slithered through the thickets. Ducks had to be on the lookout for them too. Skunks announced their presence with foul odors, but ducks still had to be on the smell-out for them. Crows annoyed the air and ears of all with complaining screeching and ducks had to be on the lookout for them. Rodents bared their sharp teeth like Russian thistles. Ducks had to be on the lookout for them. Mink stood over duck eggs like miniature bears waiting for the right moment. Ducks had to be on the lookout for them. Black-billed magpies gossiped to other creatures that might be listening about where duck eggs could be found. Ducks had to be on the lookout for them. River otters swam pond waters in search of you know what. Ducks had to be on the lookout for them. Coyotes (those artful dodgers), could turn on a cloverleaf and pounce on prey like willow switches. Ducks had to be on the lookout for them. Raven and hawks were persistent as mosquitos ready to bite. Ducks had to be on the lookout for them.
As if egg eaters weren’t enough for Sally and her friends to worry about, ducks also have enemies that eat them. Sally knew that if she could make it into the air when a predator was after her, she could out-fly any of them, except maybe an eagle. They were the best flyers. Her friend, Rusty Eagle, taught her everything she knew about avoiding hungry eagles.
Sally explored places not too far from home. With less than a five-minute flight to the west she could land on patches of grass that for some reason looked like green claws. She liked to crouch in the weeds near one of the fingers and watch the bigs hit white eggs with a stick. She couldn’t understand why the eggs never broke. The bigs just kept hitting them over and over again until they fell into a little hole in the ground. A couple of times every day Sally and her friends made the short trip to green patches to watch bigs swat white eggs and tramp through wet grass to hit them again. Of course, the ducks chose times when predators would least likely be on the prowl.
They also paid visits to a huge hole in the ground the bigs were digging just up the hill from Quiet Pond. So far it was just a large hole. Huge, noisy slave-like animals grabbed dirt in their teeth and dumped it onto the backs of other angry animals that hauled the dirt away. What the bigs did with the dirt, Sally didn’t know.
Sally and her friends speculated on what the hole in the ground might become. Dillard Duck said they were building a big nest in the ground for themselves. Roger Duck disagreed. “It doesn’t look like the stone nests over there,” he said pointing his bill at the nearby structures.
Day after day the excavation continued. It appeared to Sally and her friends that the bigs would never finish making whatever it was they were making.
The Quiet Pond ducks returned their attention to doing what ducks do. They spent their days swimming in the pond and nearby river enjoying being ducks.
One day Sally decided it was time to raise a family. Confident that no egg sucker would find her hideout, she laid a clutch of eggs in a secluded spot in a hollow log near the pond’s edge. It was in her nature to sit on nest incubating her beautiful eggs all day … except for short recesses when she left the nest to eat. When she was a way from the nest she hid it by covering it with twigs and grass.
One day, during an enormous rainstorm, the bigs stayed away from the hole. Sally took a short break from nesting, joined her friends and headed to the mysterious hole to have a look at the progress. The ducks laughed, “Quack, quack, quack.” Rain had driven the bigs indoors but it didn’t keep the ducks from doing what they wanted to do. Water rolled off them like water off a rock’s back.
“Hey look at this!” Dillard called from the edge of the hole. “It has water in it.”
Sally and the others waddled through the mud to join him. Sure enough, the hole had become a small pond.
“Do we dare?” Sally asked quacking her delight.
“Sure, if they come, we can fly away,” Roger said flapping down the bank and into the water. The others joined him and for a while they all happily entertained themselves by splashing about.
“Do you think the bigs are building a safe pond for us ducks?” Sally excitedly asked the others, “I hope so… I can bring my little ones here and won’t have to worry.”
“A safe place to swim… Wouldn’t that be the best?” Roger said.
“Yeah, no badgers, mink or coyotes,” Dillard added.
“Or skunks, snakes or hawks….” Sally quacked. “I hope so …” She stopped abruptly and scampering up the muddy bank she said, “Oh… I’ve got to get back to my eggs!” She flapped into the air and glided the short distance to pond’s edge and to her nest. She was relieved that her extended time away from the nest hadn’t endangered them.
At nightfall and nesting time, Sally heard her duck friends returning from their visit to the mysterious hole in the ground. All was well. Sally settled into sleep. Then, chugging disturbed the quiet with guttural sounds from one of the big’s slave animals. It sounded angry and at first. The awful sound frightened Sally, but as night wore on, the annoying sound became routine. Of course, she wondered what the sound might be, but could come to no conclusion.
The next day, during one of her breaks from her nest Sally intended to join the other ducks at the new pond the rains had created in the big’s mysterious hole in the ground. But, halfway up the hill she was met by Dillard and the others returning to Quiet Pond.
“The bigs sucked all the water out of the hole!” Dillard said.
“Yeah, and a slave animal is spitting gray mud all over the bottom and up the sides,” Roger added.
Over the next few days the duck community speculated about what the bigs were making. They checked it out from every angle they could think of. Chuck Duck made several gliding passes over the work site. “From the air it looks like the inside shell of a giant duck egg.”
Sally’s eggs hatched. She was the proud mother of six fuzzy, cuddly ducklings. They followed her everywhere she went. It annoyed her that she and her brood weren’t free to enjoy all the fun places in and around Quiet Pond… even though she no longer had to worry about egg suckers, she now had to worry about predator weasels and swooping birds gobbling up her offspring. Sally was delighted to hear Chuck’s description of what the bigs were making. “What else could it be but a safe pond for ducks?” she thought.
During the next few days Sally’s friends reported that the bigs were adding tiny pieces of eggshells making patterns of color all around the upper edge of the bowl. Then one day they began filling the bowl with water.
“Sure enough!” Sally said excitedly to her ducklings, “They are making a safe pond for us!”
A day later she learned that the pond was full of water. Dillard reported that the bigs had placed small resting logs all around the pond and that other bigs without many feathers on were squatting or sleeping on them.
While Sally didn’t know how the naked bigs would react to her and her family, she felt she didn’t have to be afraid of them since they had obviously made a safe pond for ducks. She determined that the next day she would lead her tiny ducklings up the hill through the grassy field and into their new home.
The big day arrived. Word got around the duck community that Sally was taking her brood to the new pond and all gathered along the route to watch her do it.
“I’m not going near any skinned bigs, but I want to watch,” Roger said waddling into a spot where he would have clear view of Sally’s maiden journey.
Ducks lined the parade route. Ducks weren’t the only ones to be drawn into the dramatic event. It was like the ducks had declared this day Sally Duck day and the other animals that called Quiet Pond home joined in the festivities… even the predators suspended their natural urge to devour ducks and lined up and waited and watched.
Sally hadn’t anticipated the attention the news of her trip was getting. She spent a few extra minutes fluffing up the feathers on each of her ducklings. They didn’t yet know duck language, but their excitement was apparent by the quackery nonsense noises each made as they waddled along the parade route toward New Pond.
Sally Mallard and her brood waddled over the edge of the grass and onto the flat stone space toward the water. A big stretched out on one of the nesting logs sat up as the ducks strolled by. It seemed startled, quickly got up and moved toward the stone structures with the see-through water walls along an exterior surface.
Sally had not had much experience with bigs. She didn’t know what to expect from them. She continued to act on the theory that the eggshell pond was made to be a safe haven for ducks. She moved to the edge of the pond… flapped her wings a couple of times and plopped into the sparkling water and began swimming. All six tiny ones followed… tumbling into the water like falling fruit. It was a thrill to be in such clear water where she could see the bottom of the pool and all the sides.
Scantily clad bigs lounged on every nesting spot around the pond. Sally noticed that all their large eyes were on her and her ducklings. She was proud that they seemed to admire what they saw… yet, some seemed to find the spectacle alarming and moved away. One trotted off through a water wall and disappeared. Others made a cooing sound and said things in big that Sally didn’t understand.
Before long a fully clothed big came running through the water wall carrying a stick with a pad of flat straw at one end. The big, headed straight for the edge of the pond closest to Sally. He swung the straw end of the stick toward Sally just missing her, but hitting one of her offspring. Sally was stunned… what she thought was a safe place for ducks apparently wasn’t. She called to her brood to follow her out of the pond and back through the grass toward Quiet Pond.
As she reached the community of spectators she could hear voices of bigs expressing a range of what she thought was pleasure and displeasure. Since she couldn’t speak nor understand big, she didn’t really know.
The Quiet Pond animal community was astonished at what they saw. Some thought Sally was a brave pioneer, while others accused her of being a careless mother. The predator segment of the community seemed both entertained and strangely indifferent.
Sally was glad to be safely in her nest at Quiet Pond. Her duck friends gathered around to talk about what they had seen and to make suggestions. Some hoped Sally had learned a dangerous but valuable lesson. Others expressed their admiration for what she had done. Roger suggested that Dillard try it the next day. Dillard said he thought they should try it as a group. Night came and Sally’s friends left for their own nests.
Sally fell asleep thinking about the day’s events. She liked New Pond. She was sure … well … at least she still hoped the bigs created the pond as a safe pond for ducks. She was surprised and confused that the big with the stick chased her away. Well, at least the running big didn’t seem to want to hurt her or her brood. Maybe he wanted to play. She didn’t know. She fell asleep reminding herself that the predators who had watched today’s parade with curious fascination would soon return to their natural instincts. No doubt they would soon be after her and her brood.
The sun rose brightly the next morning. With six fidgety ducklings squirming under her wings, there was little hope that Sally would get more rest. She nuzzled her young ones into a line and told them to follow her. She slipped into Quiet Pond and paddled close to the shoreline looking for a suitable breakfast.
Suddenly her neighbor, Waddy Duck, skimmed into the water next to Sally. She was all excited. “Be careful!” she said, “Charley Coyote got Betty Duck’s youngest.”
“Oh my!” Sally returned eyeing her six. “Does everyone know?”
“I’m telling them… time to get into hiding!” Waddy said flapping her wings, rippling the water, gathering speed and into the air.
“Oh my!” Sally said to herself. She huddled her brood under her wings. To give herself time to think, she paddled a few strokes into the seclusion of overhanging bushes. She could return to her secret hiding place and wait until she was sure Conley and his friends had done their worst and moved or until… well, until the next time. “That’s no life!” she said out loud. “I’ll bet Conley and the others won’t go near New Pond … I’ll bet the big who chased me just wanted to play… I’ll bet…” she repeated.
Sally struggled up the bank of Quiet Pond and started across the field toward New Pond. No other ducks could be seen. The coyote scare had sent them all into hiding.
“You children be quiet,” she quacked softly. “Not a peep you understand. We’ll fool Conley… the others too. Now, stay low and don’t make noise,” she said waddling toward New Pond. The little ones waddled after her.
By now the sun was warming the ground turning the dew into miniature clouds that helped to hide Sally and her brood from searching eyes of predators. When they arrived at New Pond, there were no bigs to be seen. Sally hopped into the water. The six little ones plopped in after her. The water was clean. Sally skirted the perimeter of the giant egg checking the colored pattern all around just below the water’s surface.
Suddenly, a large big who looked like it had been plucked almost naked, arrived at the pond’s edge. It carried a large leaf, which it tossed over a squatting place.
This big didn’t have a straw stick, but just in case, Sally swam near her ducklings and coaxed them to the opposite side of the pond.
The large big turned around to sit on the squatting place. At first it seemed shocked to see Sally and the little ones. But when the large one had settled onto the leaf, showing its teeth it said, “Blaw Goooooo.”
Sally wasn’t sure what that meant. When coyotes show their teeth, it’s not good, but the big seemed to be pleased at what it was looking at.
Another scantily feathered big appeared at water’s edge. It looked to Sally like it must be starving. It was nothing but skin and bones. It too had a multicolored leaf thrown over its shoulder. The skinny big appeared to be surprised at the sight of a mother duck and her ducklings floating the clean water of the hotel’s new swimming pool.
The skinny big said something to the large big, “Da tute …”
The other said, “La… dumber de gelbers dumber gill det geme slay.”
Sally kept an eye on the bigs to see what they might do. It appeared the bigs’ words weren’t intended to be threatening. Her ducklings swam in a circle around her. Young Delilah Duck squiggled in and out of line.
“Delilah, stay in line!” Sally quacked. She didn’t want the bigs to think that her brood would mar the neatness of New Pond or that she and her ducklings would be pests. The seven ducks dappled the still water.
Suddenly, a big appeared out of nowhere, leaped from a springing board and slammed into the middle of New Pond sending three ducklings into the trough that ran around the perimeter of the pond. Another found himself tumbling onto the stone path on one side of the pond. Such violence frightened the little ones and sent Sally into a moment of confusion. Her first impulse was to take flight to escape the onslaught, but her maternal instincts prevailed. Flapping her wings, churning her webbed feet and struggling to make sense out of what was happening to them, she frantically scrambled to the spot near pond’s edge where her four frantic offspring struggled. The big, who had jumped into the pool, churned the water with its arms and legs moving to the pond’s edge where it climbed up and out of the water, returned to the flexing board and made another plunge.
That churning was too much for Sally. She coaxed her little ones out of the pond onto the rock bank and under one of the unoccupied squatting pads. She felt somewhat safe there. She squatted on the hard surface fluffing her wings so her brood could seek seclusion from the assault on their tranquility. If her little ones could fly, she would have taken flight and led them away from the turmoil and back to Quiet Pond.
The scantily clad bigs sitting on the squatting pads looked on in amusement. “Cooo,” said one, “Aaaawe,” said another. The heavy one said, “ooo gut eeet.”
“Duffing gup da blather,” angrily shouted the one who had disturbed the water dabbing himself with a huge colorful leaf.
Sally had thought she would like the new home she found for her and her brood, but the agitation of the splashing big and the one that had chased her from New Pond with the straw paddle, caused her to have second thoughts. Dodging coyotes and owls was bad, but at least she knew what to expect and had learned how to outwit their most cunning hunting strategies.
But it was not so for her little ones. Their journey to acquire her level of skill was a long one. Though New Pond had brought her hope that this brood could thrive in comfort and safety, she knew from experience that not all of them would survive to adulthood.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the skinny big’s voice,
“Ler,” it said. The big gently tossed a yellow something at Sally. It landed a duck’s length in front of her. She’d never seen it before. It smelled good enough to eat. Sally surmised that the big intended for her to eat it. She would have investigated, but keeping the six little ones hidden preempted her from moving from under the pad.
Suddenly a big appeared at one of the water windows of the stone nest. It carried a straw paddle. It headed directly for the pad under which Sally hid.
Sally had never seen a penguin but she had heard about them. This one was mostly black. It had a white breast.
“Blod dummmm dt,” the white breasted big shouted hitting the pad above Sally a menacing blow. “Clit uddet slick.”
Sally couldn’t believe that she and her brood were any kind of a threat to the angry big. She didn’t move at first. The agitated big struck the pad again and stuck the straw paddle in her face several times forcing her to scurry out the other side. The ducklings fluttered from beneath her wings. They scattered in every direction… one dashing under the pad where the heavy big sat. The big had been lying down on the pad, but with the excitement, it sat up to watch.
“Clit uddet slick!” the penguin repeated using its paddle to intimidate the confused duck.
Sally was torn… her survival instincts demanded she flee, but the frightened, helpless peeps of her six little ones overpowered her need to escape.
“Clit uddet slick!” the penguin said once more sweeping one of the little ones off the rock bank and into the grass.
“Clatch det!” shouted the skinny big.
For a moment, Sally was fearful that all three bigs were on the offensive against her and her brood. But, she quickly saw that the upset big’s anger was not directed at her but was directed at the penguin. The penguin ignored the skinny big. It made a swipe at another of the little ones. Sally flapped her wings lifting herself into the air. She wasn’t concerned with achieving the graceful looks ducks are known for. Her objective was to divert the penguin’s attention to herself and away from her helpless chicks.
By now the heavy big had joined the fray. He had removed his leaf from the sitting pad and was thrashing the penguin with it. The penguin fought back defending himself with the straw paddle. The big that had been jumping in and out of the water from the springing board, protested the actions of the skinny and fat bigs. Other bigs rose from their resting nests and advanced on the contenders, some shouting and shoving the fat and skinny bigs while others agitated against the penguin and its protesters. The fat big lunged at the penguin and missing it plunged head first into the pool. The skinny big seeing this grabbed the penguin and pulled it off the edge of the pool and into the water. Before long all bigs at the pool’s edge had wrestled each other into the water and were they thrashing about shouting and calling each other names.
Sally and her six ducklings were left squatting at stone bank’s edge to watch the thrashing. Nothing like this had ever happened at Quiet Pond. Animals living there each knew the decorum expected of its kind. Ducks always behaved like ducks, owls were always owls, foxes foxes, coyotes coyotes and on and on. This was different. Sally was a little embarrassed for the bigs and she wasn’t sure it was good for her little ones to see such goings-on. She was tempted to leave the scene and return to Quiet Pond, but there was a certain fascination with what was happening in front of her… maybe because of her. She wasn’t completely sure. And coyotes being coyotes, she knew that unpleasant dangers awaited her in and near Quiet Pond. No, she would keep her ducklings close and watch the maelstrom unraveling before her.
By now other bigs began emerging from the stone nests. Their faces told that they had varying degrees of curiosity about what the fuss at poolside was all about. Not knowing what else to call them, one had on the finest feathers Sally had ever seen and the others were clad in a variety of garb… some almost naked and carrying colorful leaves.
The finely dressed big shouted to the penguin who was still in the water but who had ceased struggling with the large big. The penguin paddled to the pool’s edge and climbed out.
Sally was amused at the sight of the wet penguin, it was obvious to her that his black and white covering didn’t shed water like duck feathers. Instead of beading up and rolling off, the water had sunk in so that they were heavily soaked and clung to its limbs like mud did to her belly when she got into a soggy bog. To Sally, the penguin looked like a drowned rat. She had seen rats floating in Quiet Pond after they had fallen in or been washed there during heavy rains.
The other bigs followed the penguin out of the pond until all were out and gathered in a circle around the pool. The fancy dressed big waited until other bigs were quiet. Sally didn’t understand what it was saying. Nor did she understand what the penguin said in response, nor the flurry of heated conversation that followed.
However, from their language and their physical gestures toward her and her ducklings, it was clear that she and her brood were the center of their heated exchanges. It was also clear to her that there was no mutual language between the ducks and bigs. The only possibility of bridging the gulf between them was patterns of behavior satisfying to both.
Sally debated whether to stay to see the final outcome of the debate or simply to gather her offspring and waddle off into the field back to Quiet Pond. If she did that, she knew that she would never return to New Pond and that the bright hope she had of finding a safe place to live would be extinguished and she and her brood would have to go back to taking their chances living among the natural dangers of Quiet Pond.
Sally was surprised when the fancy dressed big and the penguin left the gathering and returned through the water walls of the stone nest. Some, who had gathered at pond side, lingered a while, then also disappeared into the stone nest. Most of the nearly naked bigs stayed by the pond, some beckoning to Sally and her ducklings to return to the pond. Those who had objected, picked up their colorful leaves, drink receptacles, glittery items and went into the stone nest.
Sally stayed at the edge of the rock bank for a while to make sure those who beckoned her had power to protect her. Then, keeping a duck’s eye on the water windows of the stone nest, she led the little ones back to New Pond and into the water. At nightfall she herded her brood under a flapping shelter covering a pile of the perches the bigs used to roost on at pond side. She felt safe from the prowling noses and eyes of predators. It would not protect her, if a coyote or a raccoon found her hideout, but that didn’t seem likely so near the big’s large nest. And it seemed safer to her than her nest down at Quiet Pond.
Bright and early the next morning, she took her ducklings out of their temporary nest to search of breakfast. To her surprise she found some sort of container full of cabbage, apples, the yellow sticks and other delicious food resting on the ground near one side of the rock nest. After the little family ate their fill they headed for New Pond. There were no bigs yet to be seen. Sally and her brood were swimming around the pool when bigs began to arrive. Those who came, “oooed” and “awed” over the sight of beautiful Sally Mallard Duck and her six cute ducklings frolicking in the hotel’s new swimming pool. Not all the bigs were happy at the thought of having ducks dirtying up the water where they hoped to swim. They made their displeasures known. Yet, even the most avid protester couldn’t help but admire the contagious charm of the little family. Sally thought she might win them over, if they grew attached to her little family. She began to spend time each day coaxing her little ones to execute patterned swims and mini acrobatics for the rock-nest guests. She determined to entertain the reluctant bigs and win their hearts.
A few days later Sally found the penguin driving stakes into the ground on a hidden side of the rock nest. When penguin had finished doing that, it placed a wire barrier on the stakes. It was very high. She was fearful that the bigs intended to pen her and her duckling in to keep them out of the pond or worse. She’d heard that bigs sometimes hunt and eat duck. Dying in the ugly jaws of Conley Coyote would be better than being captive for the rest of her life. It would be the same for her offspring.
Sally decided she must return to Quiet Pond where she and her little ones would at least be free. She took them to the food container for a last fill of delicious food before leading her six up the slight grade past New Pond toward the open field that separated New Pond from the river and Quiet Pond. Bigs were gathered at pool side… some swimming, others lying in the sun.
Sally and her duckling’s passing drew the attention of one of the bigs. It grabbed a silver box in its hands and walked toward her. It put the silver box to one of its eyes for a few seconds. For a moment Sally was fearful that the silver box would spit fire at her or one of her ducklings. But it didn’t. She had made up her mind that nothing would stop her from returning to Quiet Pond. Other bigs joined the big holding the silver box. All sorts of sounds came from the bigs as they watched Sally lead her brood into the field toward Quiet Pond. The bigs didn’t follow.
A little way into the field Sally was startled by the sight and sound of Charley Coyote coming toward her. She could take to the air and escape his advance but her chicks couldn’t. She decided to take flight, stay low and lead Charley away. She told her ducklings to scurry back to New Pond and stay there. She waddled toward Conley, ran and took to the air intending to fly out of his reach just before reaching him. She tried but couldn’t reach sufficient altitude to avoid his leaping grab. He knocked her from the air and pounced on her ready to sink his teeth into her neck. She had seconds to prepare herself for death. Her final thoughts were the hope that her ducklings would make it back to New Pond and safety.
It happened too quickly to know what had occured but the next minute Sally found herself in the arms of a big. With one eye she could see Conley Coyote running for his life toward the river. Her other eye was looking at something white. Then, within a minute she found herself sitting on the rock bank of New Pond with her little ones surrounding her.
She looked up to see what had rescued her. She found herself looking at the penguin.
When evening came, penguin coaxed Sally and her six into the pen he had constructed next to a remote side of the rock nest. He shut the gate and said, “Det duber… gelmora dell dut glif…” and walked away.
Sally knew that she could fly over the wire barrier but her little ones couldn’t. She was uneasy about what penguin had in mind. She comforted herself with knowing that it was the penguin that rescued her from Conley Coyote.
The days that followed were filled with the fruits of Sally’s decision to claim New Pond as the home for her and her family.
As her little ones grew into young ducks they thrived in entertaining poolside guests by doing water dances and other charming quackery.
Sally was happy and safe at her new home. During the safest times of the day she was able to visit her friends down at Quiet Pond, who expressed varying degrees of bewilderment at Sally’s new life. Somehow it didn’t seem so ducky to them, but they did think she was brave.
Sally simply gave friendly quacks and returned to her home at New Pond.