The Drake

There were wild ducks on the river then, presided over by a magnificent drake. The Black Dinin River snakes down through our village tumbling over the rock face into deep pools locally known as the Sheep hole, the Horse hole and Harry’s pocket. Harry’s pocket was our favourite haunt. Two large rock boulders divided the river there, making shallow pools; the absence of overhanging branches allowed the sun’s rays to warm rocks and water. Each boulder served as a picnic table, a place to laze and dry off after a swim, and trail your fingers in the shallows and dream.
Shoals of pinkeens gathered at the water’s edge, and we whiled away our time trapping them in two pound jam jars, counting each catch before returning them to the pond. The river bed held a treasure trove of small smooth stones eminently suited to rock skimming, a craft we both excelled in. A pair of otters had also set up home there.
That summer, my sister and I first spied the drake. His head was dark green with double crested feathers at the back. His breast feathers were speckled brown-red with dark grey tips to his wings; the female less endowed with showy plumage. He would sit on the warm river sand at the far bank preening his glistening feathers, sleeping on rare occasions with his head tucked under one wing. He seemed to know what a fine specimen he was, and, when he had an audience for his fine aquatic displays. Sometimes he would turn his head to one side and watch us, only to take sudden flight at our slightest movement.
We planned to capture him, and to keep him captive in the empty rabbit hutch.
Early attempts failed miserably. We consoled ourselves the reason the drake outwitted us was his ability to fly. Tall reeds and wild rhubarb – abounded along the river bank; and the crafty drake often hid himself in their cool shade. While we conducted futile searches up and down the shallower pools he would quite unexpectedly skim the water not two feet away flying just above the water’s surface, put on the brakes and land just out of our reach, leaving water rippling in our hands.
Further recesses and darker corners of the river we had thus far avoided, half fearing the otters. We tucked our summer cotton dresses into our knickers, holding hands cautiously edging our way; still he eluded us.
One day I spied him head down in the river mud. Scarcely breathing I clasped my two hands over his wings. “Can you fly now?” I asked him. He struggled, but all to no avail.
We spancelled him, tying a roll of bandage to one leg, and securing the other end to the inside of the rabbit hutch. Magnanimously, we left the hutch door ajar- our concept of freedom.
In a nocturnal farmyard dispute, our drake had one eye picked out- probably by a turkey cock. Dad ordered us to carry him back to the exact spot where we had found him.
He turned his head just once. The sightless eye though healed, had marred his natural beauty. A single quack on his part, once the signal for his family to join him brought no response. He flapped about in the pond, a sad and desolate figure. Tears pricked my eyes.
A salutary lesson in life was learned; childhood innocence was lost. Dad’s comment “the otters will surely get him now” rang in my ears. We walked home in silence.