I bought a tiny house last summer. It’s roughly two feet by one foot, slanted at the top, with a hole in the front, about four inches in diameter. I asked my handyman husband to hang it on a tree right next to the lake. There had been another house there, but it was rotten and the bottom was falling out, and the previous summer some potential renters had rejected it as far too unsafe for their babies.

I wasn’t sure, at first, if anyone would move in this year. Last year I’d bought it too late, and all the itinerant couples had already found homes in other tiny houses. This spring, when I saw the winged residents arrive for the summer, I hardly dared hope that they’d approve of our tiny house. “Do you think they’ll like it?” I asked my long-suffering handyman, who may or may not have replied; I don’t remember.

Several weeks later while eating dinner out on the deck one evening, that same handyman alerted me to a very special presence. There she was, Mrs. Wood Duck, sitting on the roof of her very own tiny house, about 12 feet away.

I held my breath, scarcely able to believe it. “Can you get a picture?” I asked the handyman. (He really is useful to have around.) He complied. Mrs. Duck didn’t even mind. She remained, for several minutes, sitting and alternately standing on the roof and then, quick as a wink, slipped into that four inch hole to resume her nest-sitting duties.

We saw her a couple more times, flying from the water straight as an arrow into the box and then, one evening, as we sat down to our al fresco dinner, there on the water was Mama with several babies in tow.

Unfortunately I was distracted and I didn’t get a good look at them. I figured I’d have another chance. Foolish dream. They paddled off behind the trees, and I never saw them again.

As I write this I’m sitting outside, enjoying the cool morning before the heat is due to roll in. The sun is shining on the water, fish are jumping from time to time, and songbirds are welcoming the day.

I have the same view of the tiny house that I did that first evening we saw Mama Duck. I wish I’d seen more of her, but I was lucky to see anything at all. Wood ducks are shy, skittish, and easily offended. But that’s OK. She let me love her from afar, and that’s the best I can ask.

My grandmother loved ducks. She died when I was 4 years old, so I don’t remember much about her, but I do remember her duck obsession. I also remember that we took a walk along the beach one day and I found a twisted bit of driftwood that resembled a sort of stick-figure duck. I picked it up and showed it to my grandma. “Look, Grandma! It’s a duck!” Grandma was suitably impressed. “Here, you can have it,” I insisted, handing it to her to keep.

Grandma took that stick figure duck home and put it on her mantelpiece. It was still there when she died, just a few months later.

A number of years ago I was helping my mom sort some old keepsakes from a box that hadn’t been emptied in a long, long time. There, amongst tin Easter eggs and bits of old candles, I found the duck. Those we love may be long gone, but God gives us little glimpses of their presence from time to time, and for that we are so blessed.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1 NIV



Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is gcodon@gmail.com.