After yesterday's wonderful surprise, when I found that new baby duckling, I was looking forward to being welcomed by a chorus of peeps this morning. Instead, I found only silence.
When I shut down the barn last night, I discovered that the second duckling had completely hatched from her shell. She was still all curled up in a ball -- hatching is exhausting work! -- but she was already starting to dry off.
Mama only let me take a quick glimpse of her newest charge before settling back down on the nest. I secured the duck pen, making sure the barn cats couldn't get in and then turned off the barn lights for the night. I debated whether or not I should bring the babies into the house or simply put the heat lamp back on as I know ducklings need supplemental heating for their first few weeks. But I decided that since mama was here, I'd leave her to take care of the new arrivals. Perhaps I made the wrong choice.
When I checked in to the duck pen this morning, there was mama sitting on her nest. And lying still beside her was one of the ducklings. While she'd started to fluff up she was still a bit crusty in spots (so I'm assuming it was the new one), but she was long gone. I'm not sure what happened -- I know babies are very fragile and perhaps she died shortly after emerging from the shell and no matter what I'd done, we would have lost her. But it's hard not to think, "or maybe she froze to death because I didn't turn the lamp on or take her inside."
(Thankfully, I found the other duckling -- still alive -- with her head shoved into mama's chest. She seemed no worse for wear and in fact, showed quite a healthy appetite for her duckling feed.)
The kids and I buried the new hatchling down by the pond and then slowly made our way back to the barn to continue on with the morning chores. As I was feeding Gall his bucket of grain, I felt some comfort in the sheer numbers of living beings around me -- especially the fully-grown ducks that I'd raised from day-olds.
But what got me about the dead duckling was an overwhelming feeling that because of my inexperience, I'd made the "wrong" choice.
The qualities that make me particularly well suited to caring for these creatures -- my deep love and commitment to raising them to the best of my ability, my appreciation for their quirky personalities and the immense sense of satisfaction I get from just being with them -- also creates a lot of pain as a caretaker.
With life, there is death, just as with happiness exists suffering and I think I'd find a much greater sense of peace by simply accepting these moments without taking personal responsibility for each and every one of them. It still sucks, though.
And now, I'm faced with another decision. Do I leave the remaining duckling with mama or do I take her inside? My instinct is to leave them together -- perhaps put the heat lamp on tonight just to help -- but I'd really hate to be met with more silence tomorrow morning.