Monday, November 9, 2009

The Boy and the Duck

“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We are born, we live a little, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.” ~ E. B. White

My son Michael loves fishing. That boy could sit on the bank of a pond the whole day, thoughts wandering to distant worlds as he waits for fish to bite. During his outings to the pond, a tiny body of water in the middle of a neighborhood like many others, surrounded by pretty homes and a newly installed wooden gazebo, Michael has made an unusual friend – Alfred the duck. Several weeks ago, Alfred had a friend, another duck which, like him, seemed to have missed the bus going south. Both ducks stayed around the pond, using the spillway for shelter, but lately Alfred’s friend has been missing, and nobody seems to know what happened to it.

Over time, Alfred has warmed up to Michael. At first, a little apprehensive about the intentions of this young boy trespassing on his territory, he hissed and ran off, waddling the way ducks do; but, once he realized that Michael meant no harm - and was in fact bringing an offering of peace in the shape of bread – he gradually came a little closer each day.

Yesterday, Michael asked to go fishing at about five o’clock, and since his brother didn’t want to go with him, I grabbed a book and we drove down to the pond. On our way out we made sure to bring some bread for Alfred. I pulled my car by the edge of the pond behind the spillway, and made myself comfortable in the seat while Michael got out of the car, fishing rod over his shoulder and bread in his hand. He stopped by the entrance of the spillway and called Alfred; after a moment the little bundle of white feathers emerged and followed Michael to his chosen spot on the other side of the pond.

My original intention was to read while I waited, but what was unfolding outside the car was so endearing that I put the book down and just watched.

Michael got his fishing rod ready and prepared to cast, while Alfred supervised by the edge of the pond; when Michael sat down, the duck went to settle beside him. I saw Michael feed him a few pieces of bread, which he gobbled eagerly but not aggressively; even after the bread was gone, Alfred continued to sit by him. When Michael caught a small fish and stood up to reel it in, the duck walked over and stood beside him. After about an hour, Michael was done fishing for the day. He walked back toward the car, and Alfred waddled back with him, side by side. When they reached the entrance of the spillway, Alfred went in and Michael continued to walk after telling his little friend goodbye for the evening.

I never got to read a single page of my book in that hour, but what I saw warmed my heart – friends comes in many packages, sometimes even in the likes of a lonely white duck named Alfred.

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