Today, the Big News is The Duck.
That is, the big news here on this particular section of the Neponset River where it rounds the bend and opens into the wide, reedy-brown marsh.
That is, the big news for my friends and their concerned and watchful neighbors.
It seems last summer, someone abandoned their pet, a domesticated white crested duck down here at the river. Over the past months, The Duck’s new human neighbors have been much interested in tracking the distinct white duck with the awkward nob on the top of his/her/their? head.
They’ve reached for their binoculars each morning, recorded, and FaceBooked their sightings. Marveled as the wary duck and mallards built a slow connection and camaraderie. But these past weeks with the river now frozen and another icy storm on the way, they’ve been watching with worry.
My friends look out on the icy river this Thursday evening, thick fog descending. No sign of the duck.
Would The Duck be able to find warmth in the company of the mallards?
How would The Duck survive if the mallards flew off? They’ve watched with concern as the poor Duck has tried to fly with them, alas cannot.
Sometimes I’ll admit I’ve rolled my eyes and been downright dismissive of stories like this one. Sometimes, been all too quick to judge such stories as silly distractions amidst all the sorrow and struggle, incomprehensible violence and disasters in the world. I mean, look at us, pouring all this care into The Duck when there are people down the street who are longing for this kind of connection and care. I mean, look at us humans, able to see and notice a lone duck and so unwilling to see each other.
But This Duck, well, got to me. Broke through my icy dismissal and opened my heart.
On Thursday I’d outpaced the winter storm coming across upstate New York and arrived safely at the warm home of friends in Milton, Massachusetts late that afternoon. Along the way, wonderful vistas of fog rising through valleys, rolling fields of yellow corn stalks poking up through the snow. So many wonderful scenes and no possibility to safely pull off the road and take a a picture.
Friday morning the storm caught up to the Massachusetts coast here in Milton. I woke to pouring rain soon turning to sleet. Took off for my morning run down the trail next to the T, puddles deeper than I anticipated, icy water pouring down into my shoes. Glasses sleet speckled and fogged. So cold. So wet. So fun!
Circling back to my friend’s condo, I head down by the riverbank for one final loop. Much to my surprise, I spot the brace of waddling mallards coming up over the ice.
Turn and share the surprise of a warm greeting with white haired and blue jacketed Mike, who’s ventured down here on this cold morning to check in on (of course!), The Duck.
As he explains how the duck’s top-heavy crest makes them much more adept on water than land, we look out and see there just beyond the mallards, The Duck!
By now, I’m as happy as he is to see The Duck I’d only heard of. They’ve survived! I can’t wait to tell my friends!
Onto these critters we throw our personification, pour out our empathy. Why? Is it our longing for a story of survival and grit, for what we pray is possible amidst impossible odds? Is it our need for a new story to break open our tired and diminished imaginations? Is it love?
Survival of the vulnerable and overcoming differences to survive together, is not the big news in the Sunday paper today. Perhaps its because we don’t know what to do with all that’s in today’s news that we pour out our empathy and are stirred to action by the orca nursing her sick calf, the lone bird far off course trying to find her way home, this resilient Duck.
Perhaps need these little nature stories to recall us to our own better natures.
Yes, perhaps drawn to them to break free our imaginations from icy cynicism or despair.
Perhaps, need these stories of daily hope believing that if The Duck can survive this night, perhaps we can as well.
Perhaps, drawn to the awe and beauty of witnessing creatures connecting across difference when all too often we can’t see beyond our own.
I don’t know, perhaps for all of that, and perhaps for what we don’t even know and struggle to name.
What I do know is two strangers, me and Mike, are chatting merrily together in the shower of sleet because of The Duck.
Later that morning, my friend Anne comes down with a handful of cracked corn. The mallards see her coming and waddle over to devour the corn.
Our friend, The Duck, remains out there paddling, ignoring her call, as if to say, “Thanks very much, I’m doing just fine.”
And much to our delight, thanks to you, Duck, so now are we.