When life isn’t perfect so much more is inspired – embrace adversity!
Little did we know a duck of our own was checking out our digs back home in the big smoke
There was a feeling that just filled the house – especially as the evening took over
It is our darkest moments that motivate our brightest contributions
I’m 38 and I’d never been to New York.
Sure, I’ve seen Sex and The City and every Episode of Friends, was moved by a documentary about Bill Cunningham, read the Bell Jar, noticed NYC in everyday media coverage, watched many Woody Allen Movies… and knew that I too, would love New York.
But there’s no way to carve out your own city within the city unless you see it for yourself.
During the first week of May I set off (like a bat out of hell) at 6 am to make my way to the Island Airport with just an hour of sleep under my belt.
Fortunately I caught the ferry in just enough time to board my 6:45 flight.
My partner was working in Brooklyn for a few days so I took the train from New Jersey to Penn Station, walked over the bridge towards Flatbush and arrived at the end of Coney Island Avenue just before 5PM.
We spent a day in Williamsburg (Brooklyn) and our last two in Manhattan.
Little did we know that while we were staring out across the pond in Central Park, running Holden Caulfield’s question over in our heads:
You know those ducks in that lagoon right near Central Park South? That little lake? By any chance, do you happen to know where they go, the ducks, when it gets all frozen over?
– Holden Caulfield, The Catcher In The Rye
… Little did we know that a duck of our own was checking out our digs back home in the big smoke.
Fast forward to when we returned to Toronto. I opened the roof to re-boot our morning routine: coffee and cats on the roof while I read stuff for work. After about 5 minutes a duck squawked and skedaddled – leaving all of us confused.
What is a wild animal doing in our concrete jungle?
The next day it happened again.
And that’s when we, this bright bunch, put it together. There must be something more bringing her back.
Suddenly it was Easter all over again. Except rather than golden-foiled packaging we were faced with what seemed to be green foiled plans – finding five mini miracles. And then there were 6. And then there were 7…
It wouldn’t have ruffled our feathers if our roof wasn’t on the fifth storey.
For this duck to pluck our roof out as her nesting ground from all her other options in the garden of the world, suggests that her habitat and human-tolerance boundaries had been broken. And so were our hearts.
This duck, this city duck… our duck, was doing the best that she could under the circumstances.
As we scrambled (there’s going to be a lot of that in this, ok?) to figure out what to do, we learned a few things along the way.
- Mother ducks and dad ducks scope out the nesting area together
- The mom visits the site for just one hour a day to lay one egg per day
- After a few days if no predators have eaten the eggs she covers them in down and continues
- When the family headcount is finalized she settles and incubation begins (so they all hatch at the same time)
- For 28 days she sits day and night, keeping everyone warm, except for one hour in which she leaves to eat, drink and be merry
- Then all the babies hatch and one duck suddenly becomes a dozen or so, depending on the number of eggs
- The most dangerous hours of a duck’s life are during the journey to the nearest body of water…
My partner, Alex, his observation – my favourite of the entire experience, was that this whole cycle of life is what can bring you hope when you feel despair.
He said that if he was not long for this world, for any reason, it would be this memory – this force of nature to repeat itself – that would comfort him. Like that knowing these new beginnings were happening in bushes, in trees and even on roof tops – this promising passing of the flame from one to the next in the circle of life, connecting all that seems separate, would be enough.
And he said that with all this going on, he would be proud to have been part of it. Felt lucky to be one of the people who got to live on this planet – waddled through this world. And while he would be sad for himself, the idea that all these happy starts were popping up – even in the most unlikely of places – would help him put everything in perspective and feel peace.
And, if I may add. Alex’s point isn’t that all the babies being born are ‘cute’ or ‘fluffy’ or ‘innocent’.
What gave him the idea of hope was that tiny beings everywhere have the whole world of nature and nurture ahead of them to balance their journey and help them become more than they are. That all these experiences can inspire something original and make the world better.
Just like Terry Fox, Van Gogh and Freddie Mercury wouldn’t be who they were without love and adversity.
As I went through the 16 months of the physically and emotionally draining ordeal of chemotherapy, I was rudely awakened by the feelings that surrounded and coursed through the cancer clinic. There were faces with the brave smiles, and the ones who had given up smiling. There were feelings of hopeful denial, and the feelings of despair… I could not leave knowing these faces and feelings would still exist, even though I would be set free from mine… I was determined to take myself to the limit for this cause.
– Terry Fox
It is our darkest moments that inspire our brightest contributions.
Life’s not about being perfect or having the perfect life. It’s about being passionate.
It’s about taking what you have, learning from it and making it better.
That’s when we called the Toronto Wildlife Centre.
The Toronto Wildlife Centre told us to call when the first duckling hatched so they could get ready for the pick up – which would happen approximately 10 hours later. That’s how long it usually takes for everybody to hatch and we’d know they were all ready-to-roll when the mother duck got out of her nest and started walking about.
By now our fridge wipe-off calendar was filled with numbers, counting down the days until our duck would need to be rescued. We still couldn’t quite visualize it. We weren’t sure what it would look like.
28 days is a long time in anyone’s life so we had to get on with it.
We still went up to our rooftop in the morning and the cats were very good (and strictly supervised on the other half of the roof only). They knew she was there but respected her space.
We took the tarp off our patio furniture, planted flowers, watered plants, ate lunch, read books (that needed to be read for book club or were designated must-be-read for work) and barbequed dinner (veggie burgers) one meter away, long after midnight. Oliver and Crazy-Face (our cats) basked in the sun from flower boxes, chased butterflies and chewed grass… all while our duck kept the earth on it’s axis.
Everybody just did their own thing on the roof.
The first day we carried on as usual she stuck her head out of the box she had claimed as her own (one that was falling apart that we’d planned to get rid of this summer!) Her brave reveal seemed to say, “I’m here, if that’s an issue then let me know now – the sooner the better.”
Some serious stuff was about to happen and she knew a stitch in time would save nine.
Within 5 minutes of us acknowledging but not interfering, her long neck relaxed and lay resting on the planter rim under an evergreen we had found discarded, a few years ago in the garbage.
After that she never asserted herself again.
She didn’t need to.
As the days drew deeper into the double digits we began to prepare the roof.
Everybody helped plugging holes, cutting a shelter box out of card board, putting plants closer to her box (for baby food), padding the foot-long fall the ducklings would take to make it out of the nest, filling a shallow dish with water, duck-taping wood to our fence as a temporary fix to stop the babies from scattering along the row of townhouses and we got busy getting attached to our duck without even realizing it.
We wanted to make sure we were organized and had done everything we could.
We wanted to make sure (wait for it!) we had all our ducks in a row.
At some points we had to get quite close to baby-proof her plot and just saw a beautiful brown eye staring out at us wedged within a camouflaged-streak, designed by mother nature herself.
And that’s what our duck came to symbolize as she sat vigilant by her young – through rain, sun, hail, bright city lights at night and everything in between.
There was a feeling that just filled the house. Especially as the evenings took over.
The idea that something so wild and free felt safe sitting cooped up under the skyline – so sure of what she needed to do, brought us a sort of reassurance that there’s still lots of beauty in the world.
And having her high above us for 23 hours each day, made the city seem more alive than ever and our little place within it, protected.
We realized near the end that she left around 8 at night and arrived home by 9.
That was her one hour out.
At first we used this time to finish getting stuff done that was near her nest (like the tap we had to turn in order to water the plants).
…But it quickly transformed into cocktail hour!
When we discovered that she’d land and pop back into her box while we were shuffling about, we decided to stay on the other side of the deck with a drink so we could keep well out of her way.
And it was amazing to see her approach from over the roof tops, followed by a flock of friends, before swooping down and then jumping back to her soon-to-be babies.
How did they know where and when to meet up?
Without any modern communication she was better organized and prompt than we’ve ever been.
Clearly she was able to coordinate it all from headquarters: the plant box off Portland Street.
As the days crept closer I started having nightmares about the ducklings and everything that could go wrong. She picked our roof and we wanted to make sure we held up our end of the bargain by doing everything we could.
Then like clockwork, on the 28th day there were two heads in the box instead of one.
We phoned the Toronto Wildlife Centre and left a message to keep them in the loop.
Our first call was late on Saturday Night and we set our alarms for 5 am to wake up with the sun.
After days of rain we made our way up to the roof on this most amazing, bright and beautiful morning.
… and this is what happened:
I had been afraid the ducklings would all do their own thing. I thought they would scatter across the roof and hide in plants and we might miss a few. But after everybody hatched all the ducks stuck together in a neat little row and followed their mom around wherever she went – just like in the movies!
So, the most dangerous hours of a duck’s life are during the journey to the nearest body of water… and our duck was chauffeured! Who would have guessed a duckling would go for a car ride before a proper swim!
The best part was that Andrew and Jeannie – passionate members of the Toronto Wildlife Centre Team, had seen the whole ordeal thousands of times. In yet, gauging by their excitement you’d never know.
Andrew said that the egg becoming a duck with it’s mother’s warmth was magical and we were all relieved when she and her team of toddlers swam away safely.
After a duck-ade of service they saw the whole experience as awe-inspiring as we did.
Sometimes you go looking for things in your life and sometimes they find you.
And that’s what our duck did for us.
So what did we learn from this whole experience that hasn’t already been said?
- Your best bet is to always go with your instinct
- Advocate for living things that don’t have a voice (in your country and beyond)
- We can get through anything if we all stick together
- If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck, it must be a duck!
- Communication is key (whether you’re a duck dialing up your one hour ‘out’ or a human coordinating a rescue)
- Share what you are going through – it breaks down barriers, brings people closer together and helps everybody understand a world outside their own, better
- Get to know your community and all the cool organizations and causes they support – knowing everything the Toronto Wildlife Centre does makes us see more layers in our city
- We’re all connected – the birds, the bees, the yous and mees
And finally, we learned: Get the experts in!
As Einstein said:
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
So when you need to put a fire out don’t call your web designer or worse, try to do it yourself!
When you have a duck on the roof get in touch with the Toronto Wildlife Centre or the Wildlife centre closest to you.
And when you want to lose weight make sure you reach out to somebody who knows what they’re doing.
Get in the experts!
That’s what we learned from our duck.
And we miss her dearly.
Andrew said that often when a duck has a successful experience you get what he called a ‘repeat offender’!
As we still see the odd feather float through the air and across the roof from our empty nest, we make a wish that she might come back next year because now we know we can make it safe under her city-duck circumstances.
We’ll just have to wait, hope we get d-ucky and see.
Please share this story with all your animal loving friends to help create awareness around the Toronto Wildlife Centre or the wildlife centre near you.
Sharing what I learned makes those 10 years worth it
What organizations or causes are in your community that deserve a mention (and link!) in the comments below? We’d love to know.