Monday, July 11, 2011

Chip: The Story


“Hello?”

“Nick, you have to come down here and pick up a duckling for me.” It was Ciera, and she spoke less in words and more in syllables smashed together.

“What? A duckling?”

“Yeah, come down here, a woman found a baby duck and I volunteered to take care of it. So can you come here?”

“Umm...ok, I'll be there soon.” I hung up the phone and tried to imagine what was going on down at the restaurant. A baby duck was with some woman who had discovered it and I was going to pick it up. Maybe it was just on the sidewalk as the valet's parked the cars. Maybe it was chirping while people barely avoided stepping on it. It was hungry and cold and lonely. I packed up my things from my grandparents house, gathered some latex gloves and a box, and jumped in the car. I drove fast and arrived in about half of the usual time.

Aquariva is a restaurant situated on the South Waterfront of Portland. It is on a tiny street with some office buildings and the Avalon Hotel, which it is attached to. Aquariva used to be called the Rusty Pelican. I think it was renovated since then because it now has a modern look and huge windows that look out on the river—that doesn't really fit the old name. Behind the restaurant is a pedestrian trail where the fitness obsessed citizens of Portland walk, bike, and jog. Ciera just started hostessing there and she seems to like it.

When I got there it was the peak of meal time. The cul-de-sac it was situated in was filled with cars. Typical. The business buildings next to Aquariva are malicious. They tow anyone. Aquariva, to counter this, has instituted a mandatory valet service to try to curb instances of towing. So when I arrived I went to the valet. He recognized me and asked if I was just picking up. “Yeah, a duckling I think.” He smiled and nodded; told me to go on in.

I entered the restaurant and saw Ciera. The advantage of having your girlfriend as the hostess is that you never have to ask where she is. She looked at me, smiled and gave a slight nod toward the bar. Before I could decipher what that meant an affable woman called my name and motioned me over. “You must be the boyfriend!” She had a box on her lap. She told me the duck was inside and that it had been quiet for the duration of its ordeal. She proffered the box to me, “the restaurant named it Chip.” I took it, said a quick goodbye to Ciera, and left the restaurant.

As I walked back to the car, a couple was heading in, and suddenly, Chip chirped. I stopped momentarily, embarrassed. The valet looked at me funny and I told him, “I guess I have a duckling.”

He smiled as if to say, “you don't know what you are getting yourself into.” He was probably right. I set the box gently down. Checked all of the mirrors twice, and drove off. I drove slowly and carefully. I turned the radio off. I wanted to do anything to reduce the stress of the bird. I pulled into Mama's driveway, and opened the box. The original box was far too small, so I was going to transfer it to a larger one. I put paper towels at the bottom of the box and put on the latex gloves. I was excited and timid. I wanted to cut my human contact down to zero.

Once in the box, I could calm down a little and look at it. Chip was adorable. The perfect duckling, he was covered in fuzz and obviously scared. I got him situated and petted him with the glove. I then proceeded to research everything I could on ducklings on the internet. There is a ton by the way. People find ducklings all the time. I was still extremely nervous.

When Ciera got home my nerves subsided. Something kicked in with her and she got it all figured out. She got food, water, bedding, and a bigger box for Chip. Then she held him. Apparently, and I can confirm this, ducklings can be handled. They are fragile, but their social nature and ducks' poor sense of smell makes touching them anything but a faux pas. It is actually a heartwarming experience. Chip's heart was beating a mile a minute, but when Ciera held him close, he just calmed down. They are social and need to be near a source of safety all the time. When he got comfortable in his space, we watched him eat and drink by dipping his beak in the shallow pan and pecking, then shaking his head and repeating the process. It was adorable. We got him actually situated and finally calmed him down. Ciera held him until he fell asleep and we slept.

In the morning I held him, trying to get him to calm down but he was up. So Ciera and I went downstairs with him in his box, thinking he might like a little fresh air. We took the box outside and I went to get some coffee for the two of us. As I was pouring milk into the coffeee, I saw Chip running across the lawn and through the bushes. It was so cute. Except Chip wasn't supposed to do that. He was supposed to be in his box. I went outside.

“He was on the table and then he ran. I tried to catch him but he was too fast.” Ciera was frantic. We searched through the bushes. There was no sign of him. Then we heard his call. A distinct sound. I motioned to Ciera, she ran in the direction of him. It was a funny wake-up call to watch Ciera chase chip in the neighbor's backyard. She caught him and we took him to the Audubon Society without further incident.

Once there, the woman told us that Chip could have been no more than 5 days old. Ducklings are precocial, which means they know how to do drink, eat, run, and quack right out of the eggshell. Kind of an abrupt wake-up call to human superiority where it takes years for us to be so self-sufficient as all that. Most Americans these days still don't know how to run.

Ciera and I reluctantly said goodbye to Chipper and went downtown for a celebratory breakfast.