The Washington Post

High above Pennsylvania Avenue, a law firm waits for ducklings

A fountain in the Crowell & Moring lobby is full of rubber duckies, which have become informal mascots for the firm. A female mallard duck has made a nest for herself on a ninth-floor terrace of 1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)

When mega law firm Crowell & Moring expanded in 2011 into space at the top of 1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW — taking over several floors from Fried Frank, a firm that moved to new digs on 17th Street — it got an interesting bit of news: The ducks conveyed.

Those would be the ducks that occasionally nest in the planter boxes of the nicely landscaped terraces that dot the building, ducks such as the mallard who a few weeks ago settled down outside the ninth-floor conference room and promptly laid eight eggs.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

In a city full of parks and green space, why choose a rectangular metal box planted with pansies and coleus as a home?

Perhaps Momma Duck felt the humans were a soft touch.

She was right. The folks at Rolling Greens, the building’s landscaper, brought in a baby pool and filled it with water. Hitt Contracting, which has been doing construction work in Crowell & Moring’s new space, mobilized, too. Brandon Rehberg, Hitt’s assistant superintendent, took the dimensions of the planter box and whipped up a quite impressive set of gradual wooden ramps for web-footed egress and ingress.

A female mallard duck has made a nest for herself on a ninth-floor terrace of 1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Employees of Crowell & Moring, the law firm in the space, are going all out to make her and her future ducklings comfortable, with a baby pool and a ramp. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)

“We don’t do anything half-assed,” he said as I admired his handiwork Wednesday morning.

Brandon acknowledged that he’d never built a duck ramp before but said he builds stuff around the house all the time.

Like what? I asked.

“Well, my house,” he said.

A little plastic moving crate has been turned upside down, an entrance cut in one end. This, it is hoped, will be the duck house. The law firm’s in-house caterer, Seasons Culinary Services, prepared a type of duck chow: one formulation for the mother, another for the coming babies.

That particular terrace has been locked off so the eggs aren’t disturbed. Now the law firm awaits the hatching.

The law firm did some research and learned that eggs hatch 28 to 30 days after they are laid. That could be Friday. Then what? Well, apparently the tiny flock will stay where it is. The folks at the law firm say the ducklings will grow up on the terrace.

“The plan is they’ll all fly away as a happy family,” said Andre Whisenton, the firm’s assistant director of operations. “If the hawk doesn’t get them first.”

Ah. The hawk. Some sort of raptor has been spotted peering down at the mother duck from a few floors above. Andre doesn’t think it lives on the building. Perhaps deep in its avian brain it knows that where there’s a duck, there may soon be ducklings. Tasty, tasty ducklings.

“Unfortunately, Mother Nature doesn’t go on vacation,” Brandon said.

The wild can be rough. But so can the law. Litigation, regulation, transactions, obfuscation. Long days sliced into billable increments. Paying back law school tuition. Cringing at lawyer jokes.

Perhaps making way for ducklings is just what the lawyers need for their psyches and their souls.

By the way, Crowell & Moring has an informal mascot, tiny, yellow rubber examples of which bob in a fountain in a lobby. It is a duck.

Bitter fruit

My 6-year-old laptop computer is on its last digits. Often I’ll be surfing the Web and the browser will suddenly shut down. Therefore, when the browser does work, I’m often typing in: “Is now a good time to buy a MacBook Pro?”

Well, no, it’s not a good time. There are analysts who track such things — monitoring how long it’s been since the last upgraded model came out, taking note of computer chip shipments, surreptitiously testing the serotonin levels in water treatment plants around Cupertino, Calif. — and they all agree a new MacBook Pro is due soon.

And yet experts also say the best time to buy a new computer is when you need one. I can’t afford to wait. So I continue to shop, searching “discount MacBook” and “MacBook best prices.”

What does my laptop think? It must think me guilty of treason. I feel like I’m talking to the HAL 9000, the supercomputer in Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

“HAL, please help me find your replacement.”

“I’m sorry, John. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

How will you know when I’ve bought a new laptop? Look for an announcement that Apple has introduced a stunning new model and slashed prices on the old ones.

I’ll have bought the day before.

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