Written by Howard Augustine of Florida
A while ago, I was driving during the mid-afternoon along Interstate 4 in the Orlando, Florida area. This piece of highway is the main artery between Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa and the southwestern end of the peninsula. It is very heavily traveled, day and night, without end. In the area I was driving, there were five lanes eastbound and five lanes westbound, with a four foot high concrete barrier between them.
I always watch the shoulder of the road, having once saved a Swiss family’s vacation by salvaging a leather suitcase with all of their monetary effects, cash, traveler’s checques, plus their airline tickets, cameras and so forth. Today, though, I noticed a mother duck on the shoulder with four tiny young ones behind her, edging forward from the grass verge onto the paved shoulder, then edging back with her young milling about her in a loose group. I knew she meant to try crossing all ten lanes, with hundreds of cars flying past every minute, and knew she would never make it, so I pulled over from doing 70 and backed all the way back to near them.
I had a cane in the van with me, so I slowly ambled back along the paved shoulder until I got between them and the traffic, and using the cane to herd her, I got them into the grass, with about 50 feet of road shoulder to get to the fence line, and the frontage road running along the other side of it. As I was doing this, I noticed the sunken mouth of a culvert drain pipe about 150 feet west along the fence line, and I guessed that it ran under the road and drained into a lake I could see behind the businesses along the road, maybe 400 feet back. So I began herding them very slowly back that way. She didn’t want to go back, but finally gave in, and turned right toward the culvert mouth after hitting the fence line.
Here’s the neat part, though. The freshly-cut weeds along the fence and extending out from it had been long-unmowed, and were quite heavy in size, and so the industrial tractor that had mowed hadn’t cut them so much as beaten them down, bending the stalks over at a 90 degree angle about 3-4 inches above the ground. The ducklings were having an awful time of it, struggling over, under and around the helter skelter jumble of thumb-sized stalks. As they struggled, I realized that there were now five duckings in the group! One of the little tykes had given up on the trip out from the culvert (had to have been where they came from), and unmarked by his mama, had just hunkered down in the cover and gave up.
So I was able to get her to take them back to the culvert, where she slid down into the water with them right behind her, and off they went back toward the lake to the south. In my mind, that was a far better ending than mama mashed all over the road, and her young’uns soon to follow!
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