Sit still in nature long enough and there’s a good chance you’ll be treated to something spectacular. I was reminded of this unfailing truth last spring on the shore of the Big Quilcene River, just off the Falls View Canyon Trail.
I was there with my sister in July. It was a weekday, so even though the sun was shining we had the area to ourselves. We were just relaxing, dangling our feet in the water, when we saw a mother duck and three ducklings coming upstream, approaching the rough waters beside us.
I spend a lot of time outdoors and have had run-ins with bears, moose, bobcat, lynx, and all kinds of animals more dangerous and “exciting” than ducks. Still, every time I happen upon a wildlife scene, even when it’s “just” a little family of ducks, a hush comes over my soul. Everything quiets and narrows in on the scene.
My sister looked at me and we smiled and looked back to the scene unfolding. I was fully prepared for an idyllic little encounter, and had no idea the drama that was about to unfold.
The mother’s motive was unclear, but she was absolutely determined to get her youngsters up the heavy waters. She looked back multiple times towards the main stem of the river and was pushing her ducklings relentlessly onward, so it’s possible that she was fleeing a predator of some kind.
Whatever the case, she was about to take her kids on a tough journey, but she absolutely was not turning back until she completed it.
I couldn’t capture it on still camera, but the waters were batting the ducklings around violently. It didn’t seem like their frail little bodies could take it as they smashed up against the rocks. Still, they pressed on, in file, behind their mamma.
Though a good portion of the rapids, they actually walked along the rocks, rather than swimming over the water.
Obviously, I couldn’t capture this whole scene on still camera. Even if I did, showing the glut of images here would blow up your phone trying to load it all. But this struggle went on for a good ten, fifteen minutes. It was absolutely epic on a duck’s scale.
One or two of the ducklings would get rocked by the water and mother would zip back, round them up, and start over again. They progressed by slow, painful inch, and got knocked back in depressingly rapid speed. Yet, they continued, methodically finding a way up those rocks.
At points, the mother would stop against the rocky shoreline and wait, as if thinking, problem-solving on how to proceed. For most of the trip, I honestly thought it was impossible that they’d make it, and I wondered if they’d die of exhaustion in the effort.
Yet, just as I was ready to give up hope, they did it.
The ducks reached the top of the rapids and turned the bend and were gone from sight. I never saw them again.
My sister and I went back to dangling our feet in the water and talking excitedly about what we’d just seen.
The Big Quilcene doesn’t have a blockbuster Hollywood budget. No special effects. No whizz bangers. But I’ll never forget that moment watching that little family brave the rapids, possible predator in pursuit. Neither will my sister.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s the stuff of magic, and sharing stories like that is the reason I started this site.