It rained and rained, and as always happens after torrential precipitation, a pond appeared in our yard where no pond had been.

It rained and rained, and as always happens after torrential precipitation, a pond appeared in our yard where no pond had been.

After the pond appeared, a duck showed up and sat by it. This wasn't unusual. During our years in this place where sometimes we have a yard east of the house and sometimes we have a body of water, we've learned to expect wildlife that matches the topography to show up.

That is, when it's dry, we see deer and raccoons and rabbits and the occasional coyote. When we have a pond, ducks and geese and other waterfowl drop by as if they've been doing it every day of their lives. I watch them paddling along the shore, exactly where I saw a stray cat slink into the soybean field just yesterday, when we had a yard, and I wonder how the right animals know when to appear. Don't they ever make mistakes? Couldn't that stray cat leap back out of the soybean field today, expecting to find the scrappy grass scattered with leaves from the maple tree that was there yesterday, and find itself in the middle of a duck pond instead? Don't the ducks ever agree to meet at the pond where they had such a good time the other day only to wind up waddling around in the grass?

"But it was right here," they'd say to each other, scratching their heads with their wings.

My husband and I spotted a beaver one pond morning. It was swimming industriously, its little brown head gliding smoothly across the water.

"That can't be a beaver," my husband said, but it was. How the beaver came to be swimming in a pond that probably hadn't been there the day before was a mystery to us, though we had plenty of guesses. It stowed away in a John Deere tractor? It hitchhiked? It parachuted out of a crop duster?

Even more mysterious is what became of the beaver the next day, when the pond disappeared and the yard once more appeared in its place. You'd think we might have found the animal walking in circles perhaps, looking for the water that was so wet and so real the day before, but he was as gone as the pond itself.

"How could he have just disappeared?" my husband said, and that's when I decided how animals saw our yard: as a sort of Briga-doon, a place that isn't there every time you look, but it might be.

That would explain why ducks continue to show up, even after a dry spell during which no pond forms for months on end. You'd think ducks and geese would cross our stop off their maps entirely and stick to the lakes and ponds that are reliably there every time. That's what Triple A would do, trust me. But not these ducks. They're willing to chance it, because there's something special - or so they think - about the pond that sometimes appears out of the mist in our yard.

So anyway, this duck.

It swam a little, sticking close to the foggy shore - or rather, to the edge of the place where the grass disappeared completely under the water - but mostly it just sat. I could see its outline from where I stood, looking just exactly the way ducks look: Small round head, large oval body, little bill sticking out like the business end of a pair of kindergarten scissors.

When the dog and I went out later, the fog was still thick and the duck was still sitting. It certainly wasn't the kind of duck to draw attention to itself. In fact, this duck was self-effacing to the point that it might be dead.

When the dog spotted it, he didn't think it was dead. After doing the classic double take that he does so well - if our dog wants to get into motion pictures, I'd advise him to polish that double take until it sparkles and then ride it all the way to Hollywood - the dog revealed his inner beagle by throwing his head back and calling for his mother. At least, he sounds like he's calling for his mother.

Apparently, the duck thought so, too. At any rate, it didn't bother to move. Perhaps it was sick.

I began to worry. If there's one thing I don't want to deal with in my yard - in my yard-yard or my pond-yard - it's a dead duck. I thought back to a yard day last week when I came across a pile of feathers that told me not that a bird had molted in that spot, and not that two birds had, shall we say, fiercely but affectionately embraced in that spot, but rather that a large predator such as a hawk had swooped down and snatched up a bird for dinner.

I know, I know. You live in the country and you lose your innocence.

Remembering the feathers, I hoped that we were not about to be faced with the melancholy chore of laying a duck to rest.

"Come on, little duck," I murmured as I took the dog back inside. That was all, but I knew the duck would receive it as the general wish for good health that I intended it to be.

Before dawn the next morning, it was foggy again and the pond was still there. When the dog and I came out, we approached the water cautiously, both of us looking for the duck. We didn't see it, but suddenly, out of the dark and the thick mist we heard a quack. The dog nearly did a backward somersault and then pretended he hadn't. As for me, my heart jumped.

The quack came again. And again. It occurred to me that if the duck was sick, I might actually step on it out here, and the dog and I returned to the house.

A few minutes later, I came out again, this time to walk to the road for the newspaper. My trek on this occasion took me the full length of the pond, farther than I'd been able to see through the fog before. When I reached the very southern tip of the pond, I realized what the dog and I had heard quacking: This end of the pond was filled with ducks, a dozen of them at least, probably more. Not just one was quacking; they all were.

Soon after that, the sun came out and the ducks flew away. Apparently the early duck flew with them, because he was gone, too. I decided he'd been the advance duck, the scout sent ahead to make sure Brigadoon was open before the rest of the flock showed up. Perhaps he had sat himself down on the edge of the water to keep an eye on the thing, lest it disappear right out from under him.

It almost did. By late afternoon the pond-yard was gone and the yard-yard had returned.

I wonder if there's time for one last mowing before winter - or the pond - returns?

Margo Bartlett can be reached at