Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Duck Lady

I would like to preface this blogspeak by saying that I put in a call to my sister Pat, who is the family archiver, before posting to make sure I had my memories in tact...Pat is the memory keeper, archiver, vault of family history for me if not the rest of the family. But that is a whole other story...

Today I would like to share a photo that a friend of mine, Bonnie (Bonz), took at her home on Eagle Lake in the great state of Minnesota (note to self). This was her message that accompanied her facebook post...”do you think they discussed the need for SPACE between each one, just took the pic about 10 minutes ago...the Geese families came to visit & line the shoreline & do notice they NEED their space wouldn't ya agree ?”. I laughed so hard when I saw this picture I actually snorted! I commented...”they think the rocks (inuk???) are another goose? I cant remember how to spell it Bonnie! you have erected a goose beacon! “. A goose beacon to call all traveling geese to come and rest awile. This picture of Bonnie's brought back so many childhood memories that it was a long while before I navigated away from the picture.

I love this picture because it reminds me so much of my home on the north end of Long Lake where I grew up. We had wonderful neighbors...one of them being my maternal grandparents. This was a wonderful condition to grow up in...your grandparents right next door!!! I remember packing a suitcase full of books one day and telling my mother I was running away from home...right next door of course. On the other side were the Nichols, Lila and Clifford. As far back as I can remember I thought of them as elderly, like a second set of grandparents. They lived right where Rice Creek exited the lake so in the summers Mr. Nichols would bring in sand to line the beach. He had a dock on wheels that rolled right in and out of the lake...it was the ideal spot on the lake to swim. We all spent hours and hours in the water, so much so that our beds would rock with imaginary waves as we fell asleep to the sound of crickets, fish jumping, frogs croaking, mosquitos hovering. We had an ideal childhood and I wish I could tell my parents how much I appreciated it.

Back to the Nichols for they are the true subject of this story. If a robin hatchling fell out of its nest we would find a shoebox and bring it to Mrs. Nichol. I would spend hours in Mr. Nichols' (Nick) shop, he had a home based business and he loved having us there. They were the nicest couple. And what has this to do with a picture of geese lined up along a lakeshore you might ask?

Lila Nichols became known to us as “The Duck Lady”. At first I think it was just the kids in the neighborhood that called her the “Duck Lady”, but shortly she was known nationwide with that moniker. It started one year when the New Brighton Sportsmans Club approached Lila to ask if they could supply some corn for the mallards that would swim close by in the fall/winter on their way south. Talk about snowballing...after just a couple of years there was not only mallards but Canadian geese as well. They were being fed so well that it disrupted migratory patterns...the ducks ended up staying all year round.There was cross mating with domestic geese that someone on the lake owned creating some pretty strange looking creatures. There were domestic geese with the coloring of a mallard and mallards that were pure white. It only took a couple of years before the sportsmans club decided that this was not a good thing and stopped supplying the feed. But that did not stop Lila. She supplied bag after bag of cracked corn for her feathered friends.

It did not take long before there were complaints to the city from lake property owners with health concerns about these non migratory invaders. You see during the winter the ducks and geese stayed almost exclusively on the northwest corner of the lake where there was open water from the creek letting out but during the summer the swarm would disperse and leave their droppings everywhere. And I mean everywhere, so much so that people were no longer able to enjoy their lakeside property and beaches. Poor Lila was in for a fight of municiple proportions.

The city really never had a chance, after Lila was told to cease and dessist network television picked up the story. You see Lila's grandon David worked for CBS, more directly, he worked for Charles Kuralt for his Sunday Morning program. When the story went national cries went up across the country to stop the city from interfering with the poor old “Duck Lady”. The city knew they had been out manuevered and stopped all legal action to stop her from feeding the ducks.

While I could empethize with Lila and her duck friends, my heart went out to the property owners on the lake. By this time I was grown with a family of my own. As my family was growing so was Lila's duck family. She even had a female mallard living in the house as a pet! When my husband and I would go to visit my folks our dog would bolt from the car and beeline to the back of the house knowing there was something great back there to chase. But there was no question that my children could not enjoy the lake the way I had as a child. No wading, no barefeet in the backyard, no swimming, no standing on the shore fishing...it was just too dirty. The grass had been destroyed near the lakeshore from the ducks using there bills to feed on bugs, the droppings could not even be stepped around. It was nightmarish.

I have not been back since my parents and Lila have passed away but I hear from my uncle who still lives on the lake that it is slowly coming back to its natural state. The ducks are no longer fed so natural migration has returned and the ducks are no longer a year round event.

I miss living on a lake...the natural rythms that accompany the seasonal changes, the sound of waves lapping the shore as you fall asleep, the joy of jumping in on a hot summer's day...I don't miss the ducks, sad to say.

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