Thursday, April 7, 2011

Life Lessons from Grandpa Walton

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by!

Well, it seems that Spring has finally sprung. I know this because here in Northwest Ohio, we're in the "April Showers" portion of the season! It seems as though all it's done this week is rain. And if it isn't raining, it's looking like it wants to rain. There's been lots of damp and dismal, and very little in the way of cheery and springy! Such is the nature of nature!

If you read the "About Me" piece on the right side of your computer screen, it says that I don't have cable t.v. In the first place, I don't want to pay for it, and in the second, I don't want to spend that much time in front of the t.v. when I could be doing other things. When analog went the way of the dodo bird, I bought one of those digital converter boxes. It did its job well for about a year, and then suddenly, I couldn't tune in to any of Whoville's local channels anymore.

Initially, I thought the converter box had died, but that turned out not to be the case. I never did figure out what the problem was, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the local cable company jammed the signals so that I'd be forced to pay for cable. It was the last thing I wanted to do, but I didn't feel I could live without my weekly dose of Grey's Anatomy, so I signed up for the cheapest possible package.

It came as a surprise to learn that, as a cable subscriber, I was to get a few more channels that just my five network ones. Even so, I rarely gave them anything more than a glance until recently. Turns out the Hallmark channel shows reruns of several programs from my youth, like Little House on the Prairie, and The Waltons. I always liked that show!

Grandpa Walton was my favorite character. He was such a wise old soul, and his wisdom was always tempered with humor, and a willingness to indulge his grandchildren in a way that none of the other adults were inclined to do. Those other grown-ups always insisted that the kids behave and mind their manners. Grandpa, on the other hand, would merely grin and wink, knowing that sometimes, kids just need to be kids.

I generally have better things to do than watch a lot of t.v. But today, I was just killing time: I'd run out of busy work, and the nightly news wasn't on yet. I settled myself, more or less, to watching The Waltons until it was time to watch something more substantial.

I confess I was a little distracted. I had some other business on my mind, and kept tuning in and out mentally, as one does, catching a few lines of dialog then wandering somewhere else in my head. At some point, though, it became clear that this wasn't just any old episode, and that I might get something out of it after all, if I paid attention.

It was an episode in which middle daughter Erin finds a lost fawn. She brings it home and insists on keeping it, even though her parents tell her no. At some point, the local park ranger (and who knew that Walton's Mountain had one of those?) turns up and tells Erin that it's illegal to keep a wild animal. As kindly as he can, for he understands that Erin's very upset about it, the ranger takes possession of the fawn and releases the little fellow back into the wild, where he's meant to be.

That's not the end of it, of course. That very night, Erin has a premonition that something bad is about to befall the fawn, and she convinces her father to help her go looking for it. Bringing the ranger along, Daddy Walton indulges his daughter, and all three proceed to search for the critter that Erin's named Lance.

The Waltons find Lance just as shots ring out: the ranger's been having trouble with poachers on Walton's Mountain, and wouldn't you know it, the poachers had taken aim at Lance. Fortunately, Lance is found with little more than a flesh wound, and they bring him back to the Walton's barn for rest and rehab. The ranger tells Erin he knows about a fenced-in farm where he can take Lance. The deer would be safe behind that fence, he tells the child, and Erin can come and visit any time she likes. It sounds like the perfect solution.

That evening, as Erin fusses over Lance, Grandpa comes in to give the deer some hay. Erin tells him about the fenced-in farm, and how happy she is that Lance will go somewhere safe. She asks Grandpa what he thinks about it, and he tells her, very gently, that he reckons that wild animals should be allowed to live wild. "Even though they'd be in danger?" she asks him. "Even so," Grandpa says. Living wild, he explains, means that Lance can run free, and choose his own mate, and eat all the tender green grass he wants to. He might not be safe, but he'd be FREE.

And therein lies the crux: one of the McKinnon's Pond ducks is gone. When I went to feed them today, I noticed that Old Fellow was nowhere to be seen. Because he's a Pekin (and therefore white), he's not a duck who can hide in the shrubs. I searched everywhere and found no trace of him.

As always happens when one of the ducks disappears, I agonize over the fact that I could've/should've found homes for them, safe homes with fences and people who understand about predators. At the same time, I can't help thinking what a (usually) wonderful place McKinnon's Pond is for a duck: it's HUGE, with plenty of territory for everyone, lots of mud for dabbling in, and a sense of freedom that I assume they enjoy. No one I know could possibly offer them anything remotely similar.

It's a quandry that I've dealt with for a number of years: find them safe, contained homes (and it must be said that those are in very short supply), or allow them to remain at the pond, at the mercy of various predators, and hope like hell that everything turns out o.k. It's not exactly a recipe for longevity. So it's striking that of all the Waltons episodes they could've shown today, and of all the days I might've tuned in to watch an episode, the one I see has Grandpa Walton telling me that wild animals want to be wild.

I know that domestic ducks aren't wild animals, even though my gang is living wild. I know that they're meant to live on farms because that's what I keep telling the residents of Whoville, every time I write a letter to the paper asking them not to put live ducklings in their children's Easter baskets. I KNOW, for heaven's sake! I just have trouble getting past the fact that they have a huge pond at their disposal, and mates to keep them company, and that even though they seem glad to see me when I show up, every last one of them turns and walks away when our visit is over.

That doesn't make losing them any easier. As I listened to Grandpa Walton's words of wisdom today, I burst into tears for Old Fellow - a gregarious duck who never saw a pile of corn he didn't like. I cried again as I wrote this piece, because I can never quite settle my mind to one thing or the other: safe, fenced-in ducks, or free but dicey? I wish I knew for sure.

As you might imagine, Erin chewed on Grandpa's words and realized that he was right. At the end of the show, she took Lance up on Walton's Mountain and released him. He hung around for a couple of minutes, then dashed off into the woods, where he could live free.

In spite of the untimely end to his life, I know that Old Fellow had some good years at the pond. He was well-fed, he had a mate whose company he enjoyed, and he had a loving human who plied him with corn and looked after him as best she could. Sometimes, I can do no more than that.

That's all for now, folks. Thanks again for stopping by. May all of you enjoy quality time with the animals in your life! Until next time, please be kind to all the critters! And please leave a comment so I know you were here.


Bob Tarte said...

Kelly, these are excellent observations on a very good topic. Every year when Linda and I raise songbirds for Wildlife Rehab Center, we end up getting attached to a couple of them and hate to see them leave. But what kind of life would they have as pets, even if it were legal to keep an oriole or grackle?

I'm sorry to hear about Old Fellow, but he lived the life that he wanted to live, and you helped make it possible. That's a grand thing to have done for him.

- Bob Tarte, Author of "Enslaved by Ducks" and "Fowl Weather"

House Hen said...

It is tough getting into the minds of ducks. I placed a duck I rescued off a pond with a fishing lure stuck to his leg, because I knew, while there were some things he liked about living with me, he couldn't get used to the snuggles and cuddling that is very much part of the life for our animals on our manor. I placed him into a home where he would have two girl ducks with no boys and he would never have to worry abut snuggles again. Through unfortunate that no one could have prevented, he lost his life, where he would probably still be alive with me, but I think he died in a place where he was much happier and he was not sorry to have gone to his new home.

Crazy Critter Lady said...

I don't know about you guys, but I almost always second-guess myself when I lose a critter. Even if there was nothing I could have done differently, I end up feeling guilty.