Fowl Advice


The world is full of quacks. I’m starting to think this is a good thing.

Every morning, I walk over a small bridge that crosses the stream running through the local college campus. And, it has become my custom to stop and acknowledge these quacks — the campus ducks. There is a pair to whom I am partial. Mallards. They glide downstream until their rustled feathers are halted by the usual obstructions — fallen trees, large, mossy rocks, and other, floating fowl. They are un-phased by delays.

For a long time, I paid no attention to the feathered duo. I walked too fast —  my heart rate up,  burning my calories, set in my circular trajectory. But, one morning, as the ducks honked, announcing the dawn’s return, I flashed back to a memory of my grandfather:

Many years before he died, I sat in his living room. I’d taken a bar of soap from his bathroom and hid behind his couch with a wooden mallard duck that he’d displayed on his coffee table. I was a small child, and I had decided that “washing” the duck by grinding soap into its carved feathers would be a most helpful thing to do. When my grandfather discovered me, he was stern. His ducks weren’t toys. So, we stood at the kitchen sink together and he carefully removed the soap from the mallard’s etched wings.

In sobriety, I have always gone full speed ahead — no time to observe quiet waters. I quit my job. I went to rehab. I hit 12-Step — hard. I got a new job. I did the work. I never stopped to look around me. I never stopped to ask for guidance — especially not from quacks. I waited to be told the truth. I waited on orders that never came. And, when I lost my footing, I waited for a hand to reach down and pull me up. I never expected I’d learn my lesson from a pair of ducks. Yet, every morning, they honk out their reminder: “Slow down, be thoughtful in how you make your way around the trees and the rocks and other quacks that deter you.”

As the sun summits the tallest pines, I peer over the bridge’s railing. I look for my grandfather there — the mallard. I think that maybe his loyal companion is my grandmother. She died before I was born. But, I’ve been told how much my grandfather loved her — heard stories of his broken heart after she died — he was never quite the same. At his funeral, my voice cracked as I gave his eulogy. I hoped, if spirits do live on, that theirs were together.

Angels and idealism, I’m told, are for children. But, I still look for signs and symbols. I wait for messages. I have been called a seeker. I’ve been told, time and again: No external thing I seek will fix my broken things inside. So, on someone else’s word, I stopped looking. — But, the ducks keep showing up.

While home on vacation, atop a pile of cleaning products my mother had put aside, I saw a small, circular piece of stained glass. It appeared to be one, dark blue piece at first glance, but when I held it to the light, there they sat — a pair of mallard ducks. I asked my mother where she’d found it — It was from my grandfather’s house.

Sometimes, it’s best to dismiss the things we’ve been told. There are words and there are things that can be seen. I see the mallard. He is real. Visible. Audible. He invites me to remember the things that have come before and the things that linger. He reminds me: There is most certainly a spirit that lives outside myself, sent to mend the broken things. We are not alone.

At the bridge, I stop and breathe. I let the honking fowl punctuate the dawn. I remember my grandfather’s laughter. I embrace a childish ideal. If we remain seekers, there will always be ducks to find. So, I peer over the bridge’s edge and watch them. Rustled feathers. Gliding happily downstream. Together.

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