Lettres d’amour: Paying Attention on Bayou Teche

Mother Nature's lessons learned the hard way

“Pay attention, and it will break your heart a dozen times before dinner,” wrote Margaret Renkl in “Surviving Despair in the Great Extinction,” in The New York Times Opinion section on May 13, 2019. I have been blessed to live near water for most of my life. For the last 15 years, I’ve lived on the Bayou Teche in New Iberia.  Bayou Teche is a slow-moving stream that runs a winding 135-mile path from Port Barre south to Berwick, where it feeds into the Atchafalaya River.

Looking outside from my living room, I can watch the greening of the 100-year-old cypress tree and watch the moss sway from the Grandmother Oak, which is over 250 years old.  An occasional canoe takes me back to the times of early Acadiana when the bayou was the road way from one homestead to another.

This winter I urged my husband Jeff to attend a wood duck house workshop sponsored by the T.E.C.H.E. Project, a nonprofit organization working to improve the quality of this amazing waterway. Little did I know what heartbreaking drama we were getting ourselves into.

From the workshop, we learned of wood duck enthusiasts who place cameras in their nest boxes to monitor activity. When I heard about this, I pushed Jeff to build a wood duck house. We also bought a Ring doorbell camera, so every time a duck goes into the house, the camera records a video.

You can imagine our excitement when the very next day, a wood duck hen came into the nest box. We watched with awe and wonder as she came and went, eventually laying some 21 or so eggs. Days passed and our phones were buzzing with alerts that mama wood duck was in the house sitting on the eggs. With all this activity, the camera battery had to be changed. This was a bit of a challenge to do when she was not in the house, and one time, we scared her away. She didn’t return for almost 12 hours.  And it was one of those cool spring nights.

After 40 days of anxious watching, we realized the eggs were not going to hatch. The typical incubation time is 28-31 days. On Easter evening, we emptied the dead eggs into the bayou, cleaned the shavings, and put in a dry layer of new shavings.

The wood duck house adventure has taught us some hard lessons about nature: It is unpredictable and cruel and doesn’t always have a happy ending. In May, another wood duck hen was sitting on a new clutch of eggs. Fingers crossed, I hope to see a brood of ducklings jumping from the box to the bayou, a feat of nature on the day after hatching called Jump Day.

About the author: Margaret Simon lives on Bayou Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana with her husband, Jeff. She wrote a book of children’s poetry, “Bayou Song: Creative Explorations of the South Louisiana Landscape,” UL Press. She currently teaches in Iberia Parish and blogs regularly at reflectionsontheteche.com.