Of ducking & plucking

Methinks I am a prophet new inspired, and do foretell the use of ducks in rice fields. More precisely, I am reminded of this clever practice by an item on the Beeb this morning. It is what that BBC is good for, by the way. Skip immediately over their canting and pernicious news pages, and go to their earth and nature pieces. They are endowed with a huge budget, and one way that they spend it is on these mildly informative and passably entertaining “features.” Often I am slightly uplifted by them.

Their piece this morning on a French rice farmer, whose son happened to visit Vietnam, was in that class. There are pretty pictures of the now duckherd farmer, leading his flock through his paddies. The more paddy, the better for the ducks; the more ducks, the better for the paddy. God is bountiful.

The ducks, you see, do not like rice. They eat everything else while the rice grows, at all of its stages: weeds, insects, and many wee creatures which the moderns would restrain by truckloads of pesticides. They also replace the fertilizer truckloads, having been designed by nature to distribute their wealth evenly and lightly. This saves the expense of fuel, in a waste of heavy engineering.

On the other hand, it requires some art, and prayer whenever, as sometimes happens, the time is out of joint.

With eager feeding food doth choke the feeder; or once he gets the knack of gobbling, it makes him fat. By end of season, it is true, your ducks become so heavy, that they would trample the delicate seedlings for the next crop. This would be a problem were there not a simple and elegant solution: duck paté. Thus have we two full crops, in the space of a single beleaguered one.

Three, once we draw some fish into the picture. For the farmers in the wet monsoonal downwinds of south-eastern Asia take them at the flood; encourage them to stray from the swollen rivers into their rice fields. Fine, free-range fish these would be. Your children can catch them with their hands for dinner, or supplement the supply from dip nets in the streams and klongs. Such happy memories I have, of rural Thailand: delicious fresh fish, with the appropriate sauces.

And how I love to see small children, joyously at work. (Schools only make them sad.)

Now, before gentle reader abandons his good sense, to take up rice cultivation, he should consider whether the parking lots around him would be so easy to adapt, or if the local climate is tropical enough. He should also know, or perhaps does already, that the life of the traditional farmer on all our continents was never quite continuous Arcadian bliss.

Who, now, seeing Her so
Happily married,
Housewife, helpmate to Man,

Can imagine the screeching
Virago, the Amazon,
Earth Mother was? …

(Auden, 1965.)

Still, we might rethink our politics, our economics, and the other dimensions of our complacently destructive ways. And this before, in addition to our own sorry spectacle, of yammering and slammering and hammering and grinding, we get the screeching Virago back.