A short walk along a red dirt path at the edge of my neighborhood leads me to a small, man-made pond surrounded by weeping willows and cherry trees. Throughout the year, its residents include multiple goose couples and a family of five pristine white ducks, which recently adopted a mallard. I find that sort of fascinating. Apparently, looks don’t matter as much to ducks as I thought they would.
A few years ago, however, one of the white ducks had clearly been in some sort of trouble. The pink skin running the length of its back and neck was visibly scabbed where its soft feathers had once been. So every weekend for about a month, I visited the pond to check on the well-being of the duck I began referring to unimaginatively as “Sick Duck.” I was pleased to notice that three of the other ducks were acting as its protectors at all times while it remained in a delicate state.
Sick Duck used to limp a few feet, then rest, clearly unable to summon the energy or strength to move for very long. The three guardian ducks would follow after him, encircling him sweetly the entire time. And they seemed intent on keeping Sick Duck safe from another of the white ducks’ clan — the one that liked to peck at it, despite its obvious ailments. (That one quickly became known by me as “Mean Duck.”)
Three weeks in, having seen no progress in Sick Duck’s situation, I became concerned enough for his health that I ultimately called a local wildlife rescue hotline, hoping they would take him into their care and give him time and assistance in recovering from his injuries. No one answered the phone, so I only left a message stating his condition and whereabouts. Though I never heard back from the rescue team, I did notice that Sick Duck was missing from the pond a matter of days later.
Several months and a couple of seasons went by. When the weather had once again improved enough for a nature walk by the pond, I happened to notice a man and woman standing beside it. The man had his arms around a pretty white duck; he released it beside the water as I approached. The woman, simultaneously, took a photograph. Was this the now-healthy Sick Duck being returned to the pond? Or, were the man and woman simply neighborhood visitors who were daring enough to approach a random white duck and give it a hug while posing for photos? Unfortunately, they left before I could find out for sure. But.…
There are now five healthy white ducks living at the pond again, plus the little stray mallard. And no matter what the truth is about his situation, I like to believe that Sick Duck is alive and well.