In my brief tenure living in the city of Lowell, I have been witness to the places where the social and ecological worlds overlap. Collide may be more like it.
I wrote a little while back about an afternoon consumed with finding a home for three baby mallard ducklings. Visitors had discovered these avian babes waddling down Shattuck Street, a busy one-way thoroughfare with cobblestones that runs kitty corner to the visitor center, and assumed the worst had happened to mama mallard. They may have been right, yet all of the websites I found online instructed me, the human, to leave wildlife to its own devices and not interfere. We humans were told to leave said ducklings under a shrub to await mama’s return.
While it is true that animal parents often leave babies behind in a presumed safe spot to await their return with food, I am not well-versed in the ways of city wildlife. I am amazed at how many animals are able to survive at all. I fear for my life on a daily basis!
While I also thoroughly submit to the premise of letting wild animals be wild and duke it out for the privilege of passing on their genes in a wild setting, this idea does not sit with me very well when promoted with regard to the changes humans have inflicted on the world which severely inhibit the ability for animals to follow their intended rhythm of life.
How many thousands of birds must crash into windows and perish every year or be killed by outdoor cats before more than a few of us take notice?
Sorry beaver, we are going to place a highway right next in the middle of your wetland home and simply hope that you will know better than to cross the highway to get to the other half of the wetland where the really tasty trees can be found.
What’s that, white-tailed deer? You say there are no more oak groves to wander through because they have all been raised and replaced with housing developments and condos by the same name?
Well, that’s just your too bad.
Or is it?
From the depths of my heart and soul, I do not believe this attitude or reality must prevail.
Which is why I tried desperately for hours to find someone, anyone, who would take three orphaned baby ducklings into their care.
It is also why, when I arrived to help staff the Lower Locks Gatehouse and was informed by my coworker that 7 baby ducklings had been trapped in one of the two lock chambers, I sprang into action.
Safe action. As much I wanted to help those baby ducklings, I was still not willing to put my own or anyone else’s lives at risk. I clearly need to live another day to help more stranded critters.
We tried tying a rope to a net and lowering it down. No luck. The water level was unusually low to keep water from pouring into the basement of a neighboring building, and we simply couldn’t reach down far enough.
It seemed like the perfect storm.
Suddenly, I noticed there were only 6 ducks where once there were 7. Where did the little one go? Had it drowned? I surveyed the chamber, worried that I might find a tiny floating body. But there only seemed to be a swirling eddy of trash where water from the canal was dumping into the chamber.
Where was baby ducky number 7?
It turned out that this tiny being had somehow been sucked into the second lock chamber and was peeping with intensity on a tiny gravel island just below a ledge where mama paced back and forth above.
A short while later, babies 5 and 6 somehow wound up in the second chamber. The wickets on the gates that led to the Concord River below were opened. Mom had the idea that perhaps she could coax the wee ones to the other side. But the water was still too low for the ducklings to jump up and drop safely into the water on the other side of the gates. We watched as mom would patiently jump into the water of the second chamber, guide her progeny toward the far gates, jump up onto the ledge created by the open wicket, and try to lead the way for babies. Try as they might, the little ones were simply too tiny to jump to such a height.
So mom, ever patient, would jump back in the water and lead them to their gravel island to rest. And wait.
No such rest awaited babies 1 through 4 in the first lock chamber. They swam and swam around and around, pausing by the gates to the second chamber as if they knew that somehow this was the place to be to get to mom and freedom.
Could all the babes make it to the second chamber, they might survive long enough for the water level to rise so they could swim through the open wickets and out to the Concord River where we had watched another mama mallard leading a long line of ducklings behind her.
When I walk down to the Lower Locks tomorrow, I hope to find only plastic and styrofoam occupants floating in the lock chamber.
Tonight, I am wishing for a small miracle to help these birds overcome human intervention.
And as long as I am alive, I will continue to help as safely and humanely as possible when our two worlds collide.
It is literally the least I can do.