Wake Up (Duck) Call

I started a Google Sheet to track the animals I’ve encountered so far since my move from Lake Merritt in Oakland to rural Cameron Park, a place few, including myself before relocating, have heard of. After sheltering-in-place with my sister’s family in nearby El Dorado Hills for most of 2020, I’d grown used to the expansive space, smaller crowds, and slower pace. The few times I returned to Oakland to check on my place and gather personal items, I noticed my stress level increase due to the noise, crowded lake and concentration of people and buildings. When an opportunity to buy a home in rural Cameron Park presented itself, I put in an offer, had no competition, and closed escrow in three weeks. I realized after I said goodbye to my native Bay Area that I’d actually checked out long ago. The only thing really keeping me there were my clients, and the pandemic made them realize I (and most people) don’t need to be there in person anymore.

Cameron Park is a small town of about 20,000 people you might pass through on your way to Tahoe from the Bay Area, just when you’re about an hour and a half away from the lake and need to rest or eat. In fact, one of the two exits for Cameron Park offers just those amenities—motels, gas stations, a Denny’s, Carl’s Jr., McDonalds, Taco Bell. It’s one of those towns whose names you don’t need to remember after you’ve checked out or filled up and headed back on Highway 50 on your way up to the Sierras. You need Cameron Park temporarily for what it can offer you during your travels—a transactional relationship and nothing more. There’s a man-made lake and a neighborhood with extra wide streets and homes with hangar-sized garages to accommodate the private planes flying in and out of the local airport, but these places aren’t enough to attract tourists.

So far, in my Google Sheet, I’ve recorded:

  • 7 deer
  • 1 coyote (panicked)
  • 4 wild turkeys
  • 1 bald eagle (cried)
  • 4 ducks (3 living on my back porch)
  • 1 black swan (enamored)
  • Descent of woodpeckers
  • Countless squirrels
  • Dozens of turtles
  • The sound of a bleating fawn (YouTubed to confirm)

The number of wild animals caught me by surprise, which I now realize is such a naïve thing to say. Of course, when you have a heavily wooded area, there’ll be animals. I just didn’t realize how many, and close they would be, and that they’d be knocking on my window, peering in as I sit on my couch. In the first month of living here, I did online searches for mountain lion and bear and coyote attacks. I bought mace and a loud whistle for protection. My neighbor is whittling by hand a walking stick to help me feel safe when I take my dog out. I’ve stopped nearly every dog person on the back country roads to ask if any wild animals have attacked their dogs (they haven’t). It’s been months of paranoia and fear and constant awareness of my surroundings. Friends have joked that I was safer in Oakland than Cameron Park.

And then a month ago, about four months into my move to Cameron Park, I had a talk with myself. I’m an animal lover, I’ve studied animal communication and can talk telepathically with dogs and cats and horses, I love nature. How do I channel my fear of the wild into something else, something more accepting and loving? How do I learn to co-exist with wild animals and appreciate them, even befriend them (without interfering in their lives)? I set my intention to embrace the wild animals around me, and suddenly things started to change. I started to research how various animals stayed warm in winter, what they hunted, when they mated. I’ve a lot more to learn but have discovered a newfound commitment to understand their world as best I can and use my tools to communicate with them.

I headed out to North Carolina for three weeks on my first trip since the start of the pandemic. Upon my return, a female mallard duck and two male mallards rested on the shady slope of my back porch. A neighbor had put out water for them and threw breadcrumbs their way in the morning. I knew they’d come from the lake across the street and was surprised to see them looking so comfortable. While sitting in my living room that day, the female mallard walked up to my sliding glass door and peeked in between the blinds of my plantation shutters, her little brown head bobbing up and down to get a better view of me. I caught her on video and posted it to Facebook. Soon after, two male mallards (drakes) decided to play voyeur as well, but instead of just looking into my living room, they began to knock loudly on the glass door with their bills—nature’s way, literally, of getting my attention.

It didn’t take me long to order a large bag of cracked corn for them, the same feed I’d used for ducks at Lake Merritt. Over the past few weeks since the ducks arrived, there’s been some drama. Once, I had to stop working in the middle of a tight deadline to break up a fight between three drakes who were trying to mate with the female (Esmerelda). By break up a fight, I mean screaming, “Hey! Leave her alone!” and opening my door wide to coax the female inside for safety. In my subsequent research I learned this is their mating ritual, and that they mate for a season and the female can get hurt. The next time it happened, I had to stand by and watch without intervening no matter how much I wanted to help the female, reminding myself that she could fly away if she really wanted to. She has plenty of opportunities. Still, I viewed those drakes as abusive monsters for a while before accepting once again that nature must takes its course.

Last week the female went missing for several days. I knew ducks mated for the season, so it worried me that she hadn’t come by. The two drakes fighting for her would turn up and look around, confused. They ate the feed I gave them in the morning, drank the fresh water in their bowl, and waited for her, nothing else to do with themselves when they had no one to fight over. When she turned up after three days, I found myself asking her, “Where have you been?” and “Are you okay?” and telling her I’m so happy she came back.

They’re outside on the grass as I write this. I’ll keep feeding and enjoying them for however long they plan to stay. I’m hoping I’ll wake up to little chicks one day, peeking through my window.

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