Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Duckling Responsibility

Here's a story from my childhood. It came to mind the other day -- why, I do not know.

I grew up in St. Petersburg, FL in a neighborhood that was near a golf course. This golf course was built with a connected network of ponds and creeks that fed into (or were fed by) Lake Maggiore. Most of the bodies of water were created as water hazards for the golfers, and also served as some decent fishing for a little kid with a cane pole. There were lots of bream, catfish and even a few bass to catch. In addition to the fish, several other wildlife species were in abundance. Turtles, ducks, cranes, herons, alligators, snakes, etc. could all be found.

One Summer day, I was fishing and generally bumping around when I noticed a little duckling in the creek that was by itself, swimming around peeping its little heart out. I realized that he had somehow gotten separated from his family, as mama duck and several other ducklings were actually in the larger pond across the street.
An older kid from the neighborhood was riding by on his bike and had stopped to ask me if I was catching anything. I pointed out the situation. We decided, as kids will do, that it was our duty, our mission, to reunite this lone peeper with his family.
Johnny (Harell, of the Harrell brothers) told me that we couldn't touch the duckling or the mother would reject it. So, we were in a quandary as to what to do. We decided that we would just sort of corral the little guy and drive him towards his mama. This involved a trip under the street in one of two culverts, but they were plenty big enough for us to navigate and the water level was low enough that we'd only be ankle deep or so as we went through. So, we jumped into the creek and started making a little racket as we approached the intrepid yellow fuzzball. He began swimming away from us and towards the culvert as planned. We continued the duckling drive for probably 15 minutes (ducklings don't cover a lot of ground... err, water, very quickly) as he made his way under the street. Once he came through on the other side, he caught sight of his mom and siblings. We were feeling pretty happy about our good deed as he sped up his efforts and started off in their direction. The family convoy was cruising across the pond and was headed to the far side in their instinctive single-file platoon, with Mom leading the way. Our little hero was paddling furiously to catch up. As he was gaining on them, and the whole posse was getting fairly close to shore, we were actually cheering him on while putting our shoes back on. Then our mood was suddenly destroyed as we saw the ominous black lump break the surface several yards behind the group. Alligator! The ducks noticed the predator as well and Mama started quacking like crazy and picked up the pace. Our little guy was still catching up as the reptilian beast began slowly cruising up behind. We were screaming at the gator and throwing rocks at it, but it was out of our range and wasn't deterred. It maintained its leisurely pace. The ducks were really stepping on it, and finally Mama, then the first duckling reached shore. All of the others were close behind, and even our buddy was just about caught up to the last one in line. Sometimes I think the alligator was showing off. He just kept cruising at altitude, slowly gaining on the train of web-footed flappers. One by one, the ducklings were making it to shore as Mama frantically quacked her head off. I don't know if she was trying to egg them on or to distract the gator, perhaps both. Now all of the ducklings but our prodigal son had made it to shore. And with perfect, deadly timing, just as this helpless little trooper was about to jump up onto dry land... chomp. One quick snap of prehistoric jaws and that was it.
Johnny, who was sort of a tough kid, started cussing the alligator out with tears in his eyes as it slipped below the surface with utter nonchalance. I was inconsolable. I sobbed my little heart out for what seemed like hours, walking home, trying to tell my mom what had happened in that wracked, hitching, way that only kids can achieve when their nascent sense of justice, fair play and altruism has just been crushed along with the tiny body of one of God's cutest creatures. That freakin' hurt. My parents told me how proud they were that Johnny and I had worked so hard and so smartly to reunite the duckling with his mother, and I think they tried to tell me a little about nature and food chains and stuff, but I wasn't having any of it. It just wasn't right.
That was a crappy day. I wish I had some silver lining to this story, how it steeled my resolve to always help the downtrodden no matter what, or that I awoke to the wonders of the circle of life or something, but I didn't. It's just one of those painful childhood memories. Stupid alligator.

1 comment:

jack42 said...

Did I ever tell you I hate you?