April 2009 ARCHIVE
Ode to a Duckling

Back in days gone by, I hung around a caravan of colorful women. Summer weekends we met at a home on the banks of the once mighty Catawba River. We called ourselves the River Goddesses. We were beyond the subject of age. We were sophisticated women .. women unafraid to wear a bathing suit. Once, on a mystical summer afternoon, when the day was closing up for the night, we River Goddesses witnessed wonderment at twilight.

It was an epiphany that forever lives in my memory.

We had chattered away for hours. In our life’s travels we had all come upon challenges. Like all things real, like all who have been tested .. we had stories to tell of adventures, lessons learned, and choices. Life tugs at you in many ways and sometimes leaves bruises and scars that with time become “medals of honor.” Finished with the topics of the day; we came together and feasted on casseroles.

The river had been vacated and the shore was littered with floats, inner-tubes, towels hung from the back of chairs, and the platters and plates across the table top were empty. The old oak tree shaded us against the lingering heat; its roots ran deep into the red clay and bull tallow of the Piedmont dirt. The hammock is hanging low and the only proof that there is a body inside is a knee poking into sight. The yard is littered with sleeping dogs. There were always dogs. Wise women travel in the company of dogs, beloved pets, which in most cases, have been rescued from a horrible fate.

Throughout the afternoon, the larger dogs romped in and out of the woods, breaking only for a swim in the river; afterwards they would stand on shore and briskly shower sunbathers as they shook themselves dry.

I kept an eye on my small dogs, Goodness and Gracious. It is easy to misplace animals that are less than five pounds. Gracious was a twelve year old semi-bald Pomeranian dog. Gracious had lost all of her hair except for her mane and tufts at her feet. Gracious was spoiled and looked like a toy lion. Goodness resembled a red smiling teddy bear, but she was a toy Pomeranian. If there ever lived a dog that was as kind as my Goodness may they be blessed with a long life; I lost Goodness too soon. They are both gone, now, and I still weep for them. Somewhere in my spirit the three of us are swinging in a white swing by the Catawba River.

Goodness is sleeping and Gracious is alert. I am pushing the white swing back and forth with my toes. Gracious is pushed up close to my leg and Goodness lies beside her. Their four paws resting casually in front of them, we are all contented. The twittering among tree branches quiets one by one, like a choir softly humming. Eventide is approaching. It is the time of day when quiet becomes a verb.

Like a shade being pulled across a window, the setting sun spreads stillness across the sky drawing night’s curtains. As shadows swallow the sky, gold streaks the sky, the day blushes into the lavender of evening. Spiders jump more slowly across the waves, above the blue heron flies home, even the dragonflies’ pause. In these moments, only the river flows and soft waves splash against the wooden struts of the pier.

It is the moment of Eventide when the universe reveals magic and mystery, truths, and promises to carry in truth. Quiet swallows the land and there is no desire to speak. Twilight has brought us into meditation with the universe and the eternal.

Suddenly, a baby’s cry pierces the silent. A lost baby is searching for its mother. It was the universal cry of a scared baby wanting its mother. From beneath the pier a yellow baby duckling not even as large as a rubber-ducky swam into the large waters quacking plaintively, so scared it had ventured into the unknown taking its only chance to be heard by Momma.

Each eyelid opened. Bodies sprung to life. We all jump to our feet. A baby was lost. We all begin to look about for its Mother. There is a baby in harm’s way.

“Ahhhh” is swooned in unison, but in a moment, we fell silent. Mother Duck has to hear the baby’s cry. Someone went for food, nourishment. We crouch on the shore ready to for rescue it when darkness falls, mother has not heard the cries. It was a universal baby’s cry. His soft pleading cries, squeaking little quacks were sounds that all women and mothers answer. It is a longing so helpless, so heart rendering, so forsaken rose from within the soft small chest of yellow feathers. A baby lost.

Quack! Quack! Mother sailed swiftly from beneath brush and bramble close to the shore. She had been nearby, but unseen. Mother’s wings beat eagerly at the waters coming for her child. Behind her in perfect formation swam other babies, brothers and sisters. They all called in unison for the lost family member.

Greetings quacked and quacked and they swam in a circle as each greeted the other. It was the universal greeting. It is a universal language. Mother led them back to the safety of shelter among bramble and brush. It was an epiphany that forever lives in my memory.

This is my last Ferry Tales column; I specifically chose this evergreen memory from my mind to leave with you. You see, this land, this Carolina back country has been my shelter many times during my life’s travels. This land, this river nourishes me. Writing Ferry tales was one of the greatest adventures of my life. Thank you.