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Dusk performance

AS the ducks circle closer, the cadence of my heartbeat rises to match the beating of their wings. My dog, Zeke, and I remain hidden in the shadows of a large, round bale of hay. The ducks circle closer. At last we stand. Mallards, black ducks, and teal flare at the sight of us and wing their way back toward the pond where they spend the night. This is how I have been spending my evenings lately. A twilight walk puts a cap on the day that cannot be matched by the evening news. My slightest stir-rings in late afternoon now put Zeke into a tizzy. He spins and whines and generally makes a nuisance of himself. He knows that soon I will find his leash and slide the whistle around my neck and it will again be time to watch the ducks.

When we first reach the field of mown hay surrounded by alders and large tracts of sturdy white oaks and maples, it is still light. We have time to traverse the field and poke around in the woods. Even now the ducks are flying. High overhead as singles or in small flocks of three or four they pass. Now to the river, back to the pond. At their early evening altitude there are no discernible markings to look for. The small ones are teal, the larger ones are blacks and mallards. They fly fast, very fast, and are gone.

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Sometimes we follow their flight into the woods and toward the river. Zeke always likes to romp through the ferns and undergrowth of the woods. The thick forest of oaks gives way to giant pines and then maples, ash, and alders as we approach the river. There is a pool where the river backs up behind some fallen logs, and this is where they sit. Zeke slows to a tiptoe and I walk crouched over and clumsy. If we could get just a little closer, no, away they fly. If I have my camera along, I take the picture anyway. The ducks will be nothing more than dark specks in an underexposed picture, but I will know what they are and remember.

When we get back to the open field, it is nearly dark. No ducks are flying now. There is nothing but the still of dusk as the mist rises off the mown hay to chase away the twilight. We walk to our favorite bale and crouch down in the darkest shadow. Soon it will begin. Like a play orchestrated to perform every night at precisely 15 minutes before dark, the ducks rise off the pond across the road. Flocks, or rather waves, of 10, then 15 fly overhead. They skim through the last pale, rose-colored rays of dusk and then, leaving not a wake or sign of having been there, are gone. Back to the pond. Back to the safety of open water and darkness.

I look down at Zeke. His ears are cocked and his eyes search the horizon, always waiting for another flock. It will come. Tomorrow night when we are again waiting for the performance of the ducks.

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