Posted by: Green Knight | July 16, 2013

Ducks Nonlimited

I did a radio interview the other week on animal spirituality, and talked about encounters I’ve had over the years with golden eagles, coyotes, and others. 96855555555555555

I’ll leave that number on here; my cat Ziffy trod upon my keyboard. It adds up to 1038, which reduces to 12, which reduces to 3. Anyone into numerology can make what they will of it. 3 is a number of completeness.

Anyhoo, we didn’t have time to get into some of my countless other animal experiences, like the time I petted a rattlesnake, or hung out with red foxes, or saved and raised and eventually released a baby mockingbird, once he was ready, whom I named Gypsy. He was a great bird, and rode around the apartment on my head. Or the duck I saved…yeah, that one’s worth telling here.

About ten years ago, I was driving home from doing a property inspection, on a really hot and humid summer day, and the radiator in my old Chevy blew up on the highway in afternoon rush-hour traffic. I was used to “old-car disease.” You pump money into fixing one thing, and it runs better for a while, but that puts pressure on the next weakest point in the system, which blows up, and you pay to fix THAT, and etc. ad nauseam. So there I was, pulled over under an overpass, and having to hike to find a phone to call for a ride and a tow. Been there too many times, which is why I haven’t had wheels in 17 years, and cut my carbon footprint down to just above zero.

This was only a few blocks from Forest Park in St. Louis, so instead of hiking up to one of the nearby hospitals or businesses to find a pay phone, I went to the park instead, needing a little nature around me at the moment. I knew of a place or two there that had pay phones, and the greenery and the low albedo would help combat my high proneness to heat stress, and I’d rather be frazzled and sweating in a nice park environment than in the heat-radiating, human-stuffed concrete jungle, if I have a choice.

So I get to the park, huffing up a hill towards a lake, on the way to the Jewel Box, a cool greenhouse attraction where I knew there’d be a phone, and what do I see but a duck, running in tight circles, biting its left wing.  Weird, eh? Most people would just laugh, think it was funny, haha, and film it with their damn cell phone and post it on Youtube. I, on the other hand, giving a shit about animals as I do, went up to investigate. The lake I mentioned is right across a busy street and the highway, and is a popular spot for local people to fish in. The duck, not a mallard but some other type — I’ll try to find a photo of something similar– had suffered an accident, and had one of those EVIL triple-pronged fishhooks caught in its wing. Picture it going in under the inner part of your bicep and sticking out the other side. Ouch.

It had been trying futilely to pull the thing out, with the result that one of the OTHER prongs on that f*cking  hook had gotten caught in its beak, and actually worn a HOLE in its upper beak from its frantic efforts to free itself; I’d estimate that the hole was almost the size of a pencil eraser. How do I know this? Because I went right up to it and held it, stopped its circling, and looked it over. It let me do it; I guess it was glad to be getting some, ANY, attention. I assessed the situation, and managed to get the hook out of its beak, and calmed it and petted it, and said, “hang on, baby, I’ll be right back, and we’ll fix this.”

I went up over the rise and down to the lakeshore, doing my Sherlock Holmes thing (I played the Great Detective once). I’d done some fishing myself back in the before time, and I knew who I was looking for. I found him, after a bit of investigation, in the person of an older black gentleman fishing for his dinner, who had a tackle box. I told him what was up and asked him if I could borrow a pair of wire-cutters, which most fishy folk have on hand. He graciously agreed, once he realized that I wasn’t just some long-haired crazy guy and that I was gonna return them in a few minutes. Think back for a moment that this is ME, with a dead car, on a sweltering summer day, looking at prospects of spending a bunch of money that I didn’t have, but taking a detour to help a critter. That’s just who I am.

So I hike back up over the hill, looking for a duck that ummm, ISN’T THERE. Momentary massive frustration, as you can probably imagine. I actually ran around that hillside calling “here, ducky-ducky, here, ducky!” And by ghod, from behind this big-ass tree comes the duck, a-runnin’ right TO me, practically jumped in my lap. It had, by that point, managed to get that hook reembedded in the hole in its beak, because it was still trying to solve its problem the only way it knew how. The totally unignorable vibe, perceivable by even the dullest of dullards, was that ducky was saying, “My FRIEND! You came BACK!!” Well, critters don’t lie to ya, and I don’t lie to them either.

This wasn’t a cute lil’ duckling, either, it was a fullgrown birdie. But it let me cradle it in my arms as I carefully dealt with all three hooks: first I disengaged the one in its beak and snipped it off and caught it in my palm. Then, it docilely let me snip off the one sticking out of its wing, and for good measure I snipped off the third one so it wouldn’t ever do any harm to anyone anymore, catching all of them in my hand along with the main body of the hook. I petted the duck for a while and talked to it, and then I stood up and said “OK, you can go back and be a duck again.” It stood there for a second and absorbed that message, looked at me with thanks in its eyes, and then ran down to the shore and jumped back into the lake.

I tossed the evil fishhook remnants into the nearest garbage can, then went and returned the wire-cutters to the old fisherman dude, who was pleasantly surprised to get them back and to find out that I wasn’t some kind of ripoff artist, and finished my hike to the Jewel Box, where I called a tow truck and called a friend for a ride home, and sat there in the soggy heat for about an hour waiting for the ride, feeling GOOD.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s that no matter how crappy your own situation is, if you run across someone in worse trouble than you are and you’re in a position or have the resources to be able to  HELP, you should do so. The duck episode turned one of my typical horrible, weird, stranger-than-fiction BC bad-luck days into something almost ethereal, and I think back to it often when in times of high stress. It helps.

And thanks, Steve, for picking me up that day.




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