Our eyes were heavy as we watched the evening news. We had drifted off but somehow the words “big waves” penetrated our sleepy brains. Three pairs of eyes snapped open like roll-up window shades. We scrambled closer to the TV. A South Pacific storm was sending big surf our way. We cheered.

Early the next day we jumped on our skateboards. Balancing our surfboards on our heads we sped toward the Venice Pier. The smell of briny surf was intoxicating. We heard the crashing of the waves and saw white water flying when they collided with the pilings.

Massive, 8 to10 foot waves full of roiling sand surged toward the shore. They came in on four wave sets. After each set an eerie lull followed and then the pounding began anew. It sent a shiver down our spines.

The waves were powerful and wild. The break was sloppy and blown out. No pelicans bobbed in the water. Not a seagull soared above. If the shorebirds didn’t trust the water we knew we should not.

Richard and I were watching the waves from the pier when Rusty hurried toward us licking his lips. “Time to go,” he said as he rushed by. We were puzzled but hurried to catch up. A few moments later we heard a yell from the pier, “Hey! My bait has disappeared!”

While we were out, Cousin Hoot from Montana had called. He was going to North Dakota to visit family and thought we might like a break from our big city life.

We met Hoot in Montana and continued on to North Dakota.  From the sky the prairie seemed to be dotted with craters. We grew closer and saw they were filled with water.

Hoot told us we were in an area known as the Prairie Pothole Region. He said some people also referred to it as the “duck factory.” Rusty looked horrified and cried, “Sidney, you told me we came from eggs! We aren’t robots, are we?”

With a laugh from deep in his belly Hoot explained that it wasn’t a real factory. It is called the “duck factory” because so many ducks are born there. He said more than 60 percent of migratory birds in the U.S. use the Prairie Pothole Region for breeding and as a migration stopover.

We were awed by the number of water filled craters covering the plains. Hoot said about 10,000 years ago the glaciers from the last ice age receded and the area known as the Great Plains was created. The receding glaciers left behind millions of shallow depressions in the earth that became wetlands. The shallow depressions are called Prairie Potholes. The Prairie Pothole region includes areas of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota and Montana. It also extends into Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Canada. It was one of the richest wetland ecosystems in the world.

Hoot said he was making the trip because he was concerned about his parents and his birth place. The Great Plains and Prairie Pothole Region had become number one out of the 25 most important and threatened wildlife habitats on the continent. 

Hoot’s parents told us that before he was born scores of potholes had been drained for crops or development. They shared the sadness they felt when their home had been destroyed and how difficult the relocation had been.

 Worry creased their elderly faces as they talked of global warming and the effect the increasing temperatures might have on the potholes. They had also heard talk of more pothole draining to plant corn for ethanol and soy for biodiesel. They feared their golden years would be ruined by the continued shrinking of their homeland.

We all decided Hoot’s parents deserved to enjoy their retirement years and that the wetlands were too important in the fight against global warming to stand by and do nothing. We would work to save them. We need them to help prevent flooding and to store water. Our rivers, streams and ground water would face more pollution without them. What would the hundreds of species of wildlife, not to mention humans, do without the food, water and cover they provide? We had to spread the word. 

As we worked on our strategy we discovered some good news.  The North Dakota Farmer’s Union has been helping by selling carbon credits to save the land. Ducks Unlimited launched a program where landowners permanently sell the rights to their stored carbon. The cost of a Duck Stamp for hunting, one of the primary sources of funding for purchasing or leasing land in that area to protect it, may be increased.

Rusty is doing his part. He opened a lemonade stand and is using the money to by Duck Stamps. He gets a lot of attention when he cries, “Buy my lemonade, save the Duck Factory.”

Phyllis and the Quackers can be reached at phyllis@phyllischavez.com

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