There is a duck on a pond beside my cottage-for-a-week. I know the pond. It was constructed some years ago for the snow geese to find, when they travelled away from their island without people. The weed is growing and I can only see a small amount of spring-fed pond now. But there is enough of it for one duck to land in each evening when she knows the night raiders are waking up. The pond is her safety as the cloak of night covers our land like a great big eyepatch.
She shouldn’t be alone, however. She has mislaid her mate somewhere along the way and, as ducks mate for life, I am sad for her. Now she must be super vigilant because nobody has her back and there is always danger for a duck whether up in the sky or down here in the pond. I watch a hooded crow dive at her, taunting, and she plunges her head into the water and throws it up at him, once, twice, when he returns to taunt some more. As the night slows in I watch her watching, her head tipping and turning as she paddles away from the edge to circle the midwater, the safer bit.
In the early morning, she lifts and flies to wherever she flies to. In search of food perhaps; in search of her mate, perhaps. I wonder how long she has been alone. Did she raise ducklings this year, teach them how to quack, to swim, to nuzzle their beaks in the grass, or in the water, for a tasty stalk of green? And did they all survive? Have they flown into their own futures now? I will never know for I don’t speak duck, and, besides, I could never get near enough to enjoy a shared conversation. She is understandably way too jumpy to trust anyone.
I don’t see a snow goose here and there used to be plenty of them. Big proud geese, paper white and rare, threatened, shot at for trophy or Christmas lunch. I remember one, once, flew in on a spring breeze, all alone, to land in the sea-loch below our house. It stood out a mile against the resident greylags and their tiny fluffball goslings. Bereaved, like the duck, he made friends with the greylags and became a sort of big brother to them. When they all decided to cross the loch beneath a scatter of hungry blackback gulls, who would happily pluck a gosling mid paddle, the snow goose led them like a fatherly general. Solicitous and watchful, he set forth as five or six familial lines followed him. He made the apex as the triangle of parents and young traversed the expanse of saltwater. From time to time the snow goose would turn back to tidy up a sprachling family, nudging them once again into formation. Tipping his head to the sky, he watched for danger. I saw him repeat this journey a few times until strong flight feathers cobbled the gosling bodies and the blackbacks left in search of a softer snack. Come Autumn and he was gone. The young geese had gone, the rich green grass had gone and the old folks who remained snuggled into the lee of the bay for shelter.
He returned twice more over two more Springs to repeat his payitforward kindness. He may have lost his mate but not his instinct to protect. I haven’t seen him for years now but I will never forget how I felt as I watched him lead like a kindly light, strong in the face of danger. I remember whispering….This is a quality I want to find in myself.