The assaults by two muscled and possibly drunk jet-skiing brothers went on and on.
Were it not for the screams from my 11-year-old daughter and my 11-year-old niece, no doubt the assault would have continued with dire consequences.
The three of us had gone to Shasta Lake to swim off the shore, play with driftwood, and paint our faces native-style with the colorful Shasta mud. The invasive shock and awe that ensued scared the living daylights out of two little girls, but it also propelled us into a proud counter-action.
It was as if these two tough and tattooed guys saw themselves as hyper-focused, elite soldiers on a mission to seek and destroy the enemy. One of the men seemed to have what looked like military tattoos on one bicep. At every unmerciful chance to push their targets under, the tenacious “water warriors” turned and churned their prey.
Their enemy? A steadfast mother duck and her 10 babies.
Loud drag boats, speeding jet skis and party boats were vast, fast and furious for the small ducks trying to avoid the noise and foul smoke that was accumulating at Centimudi boat ramp on an otherwise beautiful Sunday evening at about 7:30 p.m.
What seemed like a defensive move for her family to relocate from one side of enormous Shasta Dam to the lesser-populated opposite side, the mother duck must have had enough of the noise and insanity. Even the slow-boating fishermen seemed annoyed by the speeders, who frequently violated safe distances and the posted speed limits at the congested boat ramp area.
In retrospect, the momma duck’s repeated tactic of flying slowly away to draw her enemy away from her babies was amazing to watch. But the attackers only fell for it a couple of times, then simply pummeled the less maneuverable babies under their marauding machines. Again and again. Literally, the tiny ducklings were sitting ducks.
It wasn’t until the pair of jet-skiers saw me taking pictures and heard me yelling at them at the top of my old lungs to stop that the men locked their sights on me for a scary confrontation. They came closer to me while my daughter and niece swam themselves between the big boys and their destructive toys so the girls could escort the mother duck and babies to the safety of a cove, while I drew the marauders away from my babies.
Shooting his craft up to the shoreline, the larger “soldier” came at me first and fast with slurred speech and red eyes, demanding, “Who the f… do you think you are taking pictures of my little brother without permission?!”
The seemingly drunken little brother darted up to the shoreline in his bright orange board shorts. That’s when the hostile threats and false accusations of violating “their” privacy came at me rapid fire without a chance for me to try to explain.
“We ought to come up there and rip that piece of shit camera right out of your f…ing hands, old man!”
The threat was frightening and felt imminent. I stood my ground, and they stayed on their watercraft, yelling at me.
My cell phone would not connect in the low cove for back-up 911. Not a ranger or sheriff in sight. I told them my name, asked who they were and where they were from. No answer, other than to continue drunkenly cussing and yelling about their rights being violated.
When I loudly asked, “Permission to speak freely, sir!” they went into conversational shock and both shut up for a second. I quickly said that what they were doing was a much bigger assault on the privacy of the defenseless wildlife. They grew louder and more angry.
“We would much rather shoot ducks than run them over on a f…ing jet ski!”
For their excuse, they said ducks have a natural defense mechanism whereby a duck under the assault of a jet ski attack always dives under the craft.
“They never get hurt, stupid!”
Noticing again what looked like military tattoos, I decided to address only the bigger brother. I told him it was illegal to harm wildlife in our national parks, and said many soldiers fought for the laws that protect our great nation, and that includes our wildlife.
I remembered one of the first rules of conflict management training (as a chemical dependency counselor): never try to rationalize with an angry drunk. I validated their “feelings” about how awful it must have felt to have a reporter taking their pictures in a public place. I went on to say that my biggest concern was how two big, strapping, smart guys would get such a thrill from scaring such small creatures, while also scaring two little girls with their violent displays.
The younger one flipped me off and jet-skied into the sunset. The bigger brother had “won” his little brother’s battle a hero. It was off to the pretty young ladies on the opposite shore awaiting their men’s valiant return from “war” with a mother duck and her ducklings.
Did the bullies want blood? No doubt in my mind.
Did my kids want to feel threatened on our otherwise beautiful Lake Shasta? No doubt they just wanted a pleasant end to our otherwise peaceful day, in peace.
After the satisfied skiers left to resume their spoils of belligerence, beer and babes, we walked away, up the long ramp without looking back.
We sang, “We are the Champions” by Queen.
When my daughter asked why we were the champions, I said it was because she and her cousin saved the lives of a whole family, and her dad used words instead of fists to defeat the enemy.
If you want to see what the enemy looks like from within our own borders, look at and share my pics.
I couldn’t feel more proud of these brave north state girls who swam that frantic momma duck and her surviving nine babies off to the safety of a smaller cove after such a horrible trauma.
We’d do it again in a heartbeat!
Alan Ernesto Phillips is a proud son of Shasta County, a proud father of two daughters, and a local musician. He is a parenting educator, chemical-dependency counselor, victim-awareness counselor and developmental-asset builder and trainer. He also is a Clio and Telly award-winning filmmaker who produced and directed political campaigns for congressmen, senators, governors and one president (Ronald Reagan). His clients also included Coca-Cola, NIKE, CBS News and NOVA documentaries. He is a current board member and public affairs officer for the Northern California Hispanic Latino Coalition.