I’m not sure when he (she? it?) first showed up in the little ponds on Springlake Way. Has it been two months, maybe three? All I know is I noticed something different, something strange in the gaggle of ducks I like to watch and occasionally feed at the lakes which are en route on my daily walk with my dog, Gelbert. The ponds are tiered and lovely; fountains set in the middle feed them and the water runs down between the rock-lined walls creating a soft gurgle and infinite pleasure to those in the neighborhood. On the surface, lotus and water lilies float lazily and bloom in season, bursts of yellow and pink nestled amidst the huge green leaves and the water grasses that bob and drift in the breeze.
These small ponds are home to fat and lethargic carp that swim endlessly beneath the murky surface and ducks that float on top and flap out of the water to sit upon the pond’s rock ledge and sun themselves. Theirs is a good life, a quiet life, one lived in bucolic splendor, an oasis that seems far from the stress of the noisy city and its bleating car horns and deafening sirens only blocks away. Walkers stop to marvel at the plants, the birds, the beauty of the landscaping. School kids do homework in the small park that surrounds the ponds. Nannies sit on the benches and watch their wards toddle all over the grass, and, of course, countless people bring their day-old bread to the ponds to feed the ducks and marvel at their antics for food. If I were a wild duck, I would opt for this zip code.
So on any given day, when I walk my dog past these pristine bodies of water, I am apt to find several families of ducks, living happily, fat and content. I scan the grass and the water and see a wave of brown feathers, a few sleek and shiny green heads worn proudly by the male Mallards, and dozens of orange bills and webbed feet. But one day, there was something amiss in this earthy landscape of avian beings. In the far corner of the top middle pond, a lone white duck sat on the wall, as if contemplating whether to take off in flight or dip his webbed toes in the cool water. The white duck was alone, far from the mass of brown ducks who cluster together and quack almost in tandem. It sat serenely, quietly and seemed to simply observe. Something about this duck touched me, its earnest expression, its quiet and solid presence. I liked this duck and began to look for him on every walk.
And sure enough, the white duck – so different in color and shape than the others at Springlake pond – began to make friends. While I initially saw him sitting or swimming alone, soon it had a friend. Another duck, a kind of Mallard with a glistening blue streak on its brown wings, joined the white duck. They were inseparable, always sitting side by side on the wall, or tucked contentedly as a pair amidst the reeds. They looked so happy together, like an elderly couple who have spent years in one another’s company. They needed no one else, only the comfort and solace of each other. For several weeks, I would walk by and look, always finding them together, far from the rest of the pack of birds. An odd couple, outcasts from the group, but they did not seem to mind their status. I imagined them as some kind of outcasts, the white duck being shunned from the herd because it was different and the brown Mallard as a brave and colorblind hero who befriended the ostracized duck. The brown duck cared not about the white duck’s color. He liked the white duck’s calm, self-assured demeanor and together they formed a force, albeit small, that patiently waited on the outskirts of the pond, communicating without words and marveling in the happiness of their relationship beyond the flock.
And then, the last time I walked to the ponds, I saw them, my little couple of outsiders, sitting merrily amidst the sord, surrounded by the bobbing heads and desperate quacks of the rest of the ducks. They had been integrated into the flock and the white duck now swam and glided across the pond like a queen, her whiteness differentiating her from the others, making her appear regal and “swan-like.” I sat back on the grass and observed. My little white duck, the one who I imagined had been shunned by the group, who I had seen make a sincere and devout companion in the drake, was now front and center in the flock, a lovely variant from the mass of dull and ordinary brown feathers. For some strange reason, I felt both happy and sad….I felt happy for the white duck and her drake as they were now part of the larger family, the sord, and would not have to sit alone on the perimeter of the pond. But I also felt a touch of sadness as the white duck, who had at one time to me seemed to perfect in its aloneness and its cool aloofness, was now integrated into the flock, another duck amongst ducks.
But this white duck is still special. That is obvious. It still possesses a quiet air of confidence, of accepting and celebrating its differences from the rest of the flock. Even surrounded by the brown birds, it shines and floats in marked contrast to the green of the water, the blue of the sky and the constant earth-toned palette of the others.
One day last week I went to find the white duck and was wandering around the pond, my dog in tow. I ran into a neighborhood friend, a fellow dog-walker. “What are you doing?” she asked, seeing me scanning the pond, my camera ready to take a few pictures of my avian friends. “Looking for the white duck,” I replied. “Wow! You like it, too,” she answered and joined me in scanning the ponds to locate the object of our affection. “That duck is special,” she said…and I had to agree. There is something about this duck that touches my heart and makes me smile, for who can’t relate to being different, to feeling separate from the pack, for the power to be found in sitting back and observing and for being appreciative of a true friend who will stay with you beside the water even when everyone else is swimming?