Sometimes, You Find The Best Things In the Gutter

lame duck
photo credit: ShellyS via photopin cc

So, the other day, I went in the gutter to pick up chicks.

Actually, it was a storm drain. And they were ducklings. And my buddy at work, Joe, was my wingman.We pried up storm grates and estimated depth from street to bottom of drainpipe and jumped in and carried toy-sized ducks to a mama duck.

I couldn’t help but think of being a dad, and how we deal with kids.

Specifically, other people’s kids. When I saw Joe contemplate a dive into the deep, I figured he’d dropped his keys. Or mobile phone. Or possibly a ham sandwich. (I’d dive in the sewer for a ham sandwich, provided it was on sourdough bread.

With Colby cheese and mayo with Old Bay seasoning. In a name-brand baggie).

“There are ducklings in here,” the bearded Californian said as he descended into the darkness. “I was taking pictures of them for my son, and they all fell in.” Mama had duck walked across the gutter without incident.

Let the duck extraction begin

photo credit: Keys via photopin (license)

Ten or 12 babies – were they all hers? – followed in their mama’s webbed footsteps, but with feet no bigger than gummy bears, they dropped through the grate openings one after another.

Ten or 12 stood to quack in the grass with mama while the rest of the brace (that’s what you call a group of ducks – I looked it up) quacked in the echoes underground. Joe passed each tiny duck, one by one, to me, and I deposited them in the freshly mown grass.

Two dashed across the parking lot, jittering between tires of parked cars until I herded them up the curb and back to the downy bunch in safety.

Nine, 10, 11, but not 12. No. 12, we’ll call him Chippy, took off down the drainpipe.

I’m not familiar with the ecology of the suburban drainpipe. I suspect the gators and boa constrictors of urban legend are just that – legend. But, my luck, a missing limb or close call would make me famous as the proof such underground terrors exist.

Joe climbed out, and we listened.

Chippy’s run

We could hear Chippy’s quacks as he headed toward the next drain. I wasn’t quick enough. He turned left and headed up the next pipe. Then, silence. Not the silence of a mountaintop, though.

It was more like that ominous silence like when Han, Luke, Chewie and Princess Leia were stuck in the Death Star track compactor.

Chippy, though, must have seen daylight or smelled the swamp water. He burst out of the drainpipe into a fenced-in area with rocks big enough to be his mother. He struggled to climb them, so Joe jumped the fence.

Chippy, for all his bravado, deftly pooped and peed on my hands after Joe delivered him to me and I carried him to his mom.

We stood there, Joe and me, messy hands aside, glad for the reunion on the grass. It wasn’t until then that I wondered about the drake. Isn’t that the way? I began to wonder about the deadbeat duck.

I imagined him chasing pigeons and hens at the local watering hole, while mama duck raised the brood. I wondered what kind of a hellion she must be, here with 20 chicks under her wings, scarcely able to take care of such a harvest.

Dad in the drake Air Force?

Thankfully, I stopped thinking about that.

We don’t know if the drake died trying to protect these babies, or if mama duck adopted a dozen in an emergency. Maybe dad drake was recruited into the duck air force. All that mattered – or should have mattered – was that the kids got out safely.

Because they’re kids. No matter their circumstance. No matter that they shouldn’t have been in such a dangerous place, or that one and then two and then 10 or so made the bad decision to walk across that grate that morning.

They’re babies. So are other people’s kids.

Rather than bench them because they’re slower than others, or frisk them when they linger in the toy department and can’t afford to buy anything, or interrogate them if they waste a perfectly good graham cracker, we should love them.

Mama duck didn’t fight us that morning. Maybe as one who had already done some rescuing, she knew when help arrived. And she was big enough not to judge a couple of dudes who wouldn’t think twice about picking up chicks in the gutter.

Or, ducklings in a sewer.

ducklings quote


    1. Thanks Brie – I’m glad it didn’t involve hawks or alligators.

  1. mandyisgr8 says:

    this makes my heart happy! animal people are the best people. let’s hope those little ducklings stay safe and grow into happy (and responsible!) momma and daddy ducks!

    1. It was a good morning, even getting peed on. They’re nowhere to be found, so Joe and I hope they’ve found a safer place to live.

  2. You my friend are a professional duckling wrangler…. True about the kids, kids should play based on the amount of effort put into a game, not the skill level

    1. It’s easy when they’re smaller than avocados. I always applaud effort over skill on the soccer field, and I know how important confidence is … this definitely builds it.

  3. Chris Carter says:

    Oh what a precious story!!! I could picture you two fellas in “rescue mode” and I love the message you bring through saving the chicks. Every last one of those babies/chicks/children, deserves to be rescued. Every last one.

    1. I was glad to be a part of it. And it made me think, for sure. Kind of reminded me of the parable of the lost sheep.

      When it comes to kids, “most” isn’t enough. “All” is.

      1. Chris Carter says:

        YES!!! I thought of that TOO!! But didn’t want to get all religious on ya! lol Great minds think alike, sweet friend. 😉

      2. I thought you might see that. It wasn’t lost on me that morning, either, and I think there’s probably a reason just one darted for the next pipe. Religiosity isn’t banned here, you know. You know I love me some parables. I wish Jesus had a blog.

  4. Kerri says:

    Oh what a great end to my day! Just tell us you washed your hands before you ate that sandwich.

    1. Rescued ducks aren’t a bad way to begin – or end – a day, right? And, I *always* wash my hands before eating a sandwich … especially when a water fowl has defecated on me!

  5. Tricia says:

    I love this story so much. Picturing two guys saving a bunch of ducklings makes me smile. And yes, it’s all about the kids.

    1. Thanks, Tricia. I don’t think anyone knew what we were up to, except the mama duck, of course. I don’t know what happened to that brace, but at least they had a chance that day.

  6. Great story and some good moral lessons if you pay attention. 🙂

    1. Thanks brother – oh, those moral lessons felt like they were all over the place that morning.

  7. Ilene Evans says:

    Given I had three kids in three and a half years, I was “that mom” who, for a while, had a baby in a stroller and two toddlers running in all directions – and often, one who ran away. I constantly relied on the kindness of strangers to get me out of binds when one of my kids ran too far. None of them ever disappeared into storm drains, but occasionally one would run ahead of me in a store or a boardwalk and would be retrieved by some kind adult. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all keep an eye out on each other’s kids and help – without judgement? Just like you and Joe helped those ducks?

    1. Even babies without webbed feet can be tough to catch. Elise once nearly slipped through the railings of a second-floor balcony at UNC Greensboro as a little kid – we were there for a health fair, ironically. It’s good if we keep an eye on each other’s flock.

      I like leaving the judgement part out of the equation – I wonder if it’s possible. At least we can all try it.

  8. Tamara says:

    What a great, great story. I’m sharing it on Facebook and Twitter as we speak. I also always love a good Star Wars reference. Kudos to you and Joe.

    1. Thanks Tamara! It was cool to be part of it, and I appreciate the Facebook and Twitter love. And stick around – there’s always a good Star Wars reference to be had. I consider Joe and myself Jedi’s at least.

  9. This is such an awesome story…I am definitely sharing it. I love that you rescued them. I am sure Mama Duck was beside herself with joy. The reference to the kids was wonderful too….they absolutely deserve our ALL.

    1. I appreciate that! I love that I had the opportunity. I love that she trusted us. It just made me think of all the kids we come in contact with too … will they get our best, too?

      We have the power to lift up a child – or leave them in the pipe. What will we do?

  10. Rorybore says:

    awesome story. just loved this.
    that’s what I tell new mothers who ask me how I handle my brood of 3 (all yours? what…it’s only 3!) — just love on them. every day. it covers over so much more.

    1. I don’t think it’s possible to overdose on love or cheese. Or day baseball.


  11. jannatwrites says:

    I think it’s great the lengths you guys went to to get these ducklings to safety. (And just like human children, the thanks you got for all your hard work was handful of poop and pee…how do you like that?!)

    1. It didn’t feel like lengths – it just felt like something anyone in our position would do. You’re so right about the “reward” you get for taking care of the youngins – as unsanitary as it is, I’m much appreciative that Chip let go on my hands than while running from a wolverine or gila monster underground.

  12. Totally missed this post while I was traveling. I love it! And I love that you and Joe took the time to save every duckling. Sometime you gotta just stop and help. We don’t know their story. A nice life lesson.

    1. You should definitely take the blog with you when you travel. Glad you liked it! We couldn’t leave Chippy down there all by himself. It takes a village to raise a brace of ducks, apparently. All we know is when ducklings call, Joe and I know what to do. Kinda. What would do with a surfeit of skunks?

  13. Nicola Young says:

    I’m so glad little Chippy made it. Was worried for him when reading this. Great job you two.

    1. Eli Pacheco says:

      Hopefully he’s had many a brace since then, Nikki!

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