Companionship

Almost every day I walk with my dogs in the Inner Harbor Park. This is a small, pretty park with sloping green lawns, tall pines, and spreading oaks. There’s a wooden gazebo large enough for picnics and parties and a constantly enjoyed tennis court. But, best of all, it is surrounded on two sides by water spreading inland from the Mississippi Sound and the Gulf beyond. Its muddy edges, when exposed, allow a glimpse of scuttling, burrowing fiddler crabs – each one  sporting one impressive and colorful claw. There are curving walkways and little picturesque bridges that the dogs and I make use of, and there is a pier adjacent to the park upon which shore birds perch and from which the occasional fisherman tries his luck. One can stand on this pier and spy an alligator sunning himself on the opposite bank. Alligators can be a menace to unleashed and overly curious dogs – and to the ducks who meander tamely around the park.

Over the years, the number of ducks have varied; I have counted seven, but two seems to be the magic number for any length of time. Before the dreadful destruction of Hurricane Katrina, there were two that I had taken for granted for several years. They seemed an elderly couple; I never saw any offspring. They were simply there, waddling slowly through the park, partaking of corn, cereal or bread that someone left in generous sprinklings – and, I suppose, of unwary fiddler crabs and minnows from the water’s edge. After Katrina, when mountains of debris were finally cleared, one duck returned to waddle solitarily through the devastated park. As the terrain was slowly healing itself, and fallen trees were sawed and removed, my walks there resumed and the presence of “the lonely duck” (my name for him) conveyed a dual message: one of survival, but also one of incompletion. After all, two was the magic number. Wasn’t it?

I’m afraid I identified with the lonely duck. Back on the family compound, I was the one left behind – the lone survivor after the storm. Other homes and buildings had been swept away while the large, barn-like studio in which I lived and worked – though badly damaged – remained habitable. Family members had makeshift and temporary housing all over town, and while present during the day, occupied with the “clean up”, evenings and nights I was on my own.

These days, the obvious effects of the hurricane have mostly dissipated. My family members have rebuilt and most have returned. It is not the same, but a recovery of sorts is undeniable. People are living and working here, and in some ways things have improved. Change has brought new life to the family businesses. Tradition has relaxed to allow the younger generation its contribution. Growth is evident. I bear witness to all of this and celebrate even as I mourn the loss of ancient landmarks. The environment known by my child-self is no more. I am not as at home in my home, and even though living in the midst of family again, I still identify with the lonely duck.

The lonely duck in the Inner Harbor Park was also joined by a slew of other ducks. Someone took pity, and one day I found him waddling happily – if somewhat confusedly – among his six new companions. I never quite trusted this new arrangement and, sure enough, the number seven was gradually reduced to two. This is the present reality. Once more, an elderly twosome waddles contentedly over the lovely terrain of the park, or sits companionably on the grassy bank overlooking the water. They are always together, so well-suited that they turn their heads in sync as the dogs charge pass, barely held in check by yours truly. I am charmed by their togetherness – by the beautiful line of their necks and their glossy feathers – and despite the mostly acceptable fact of my own aloneness,I can almost be inspired to believe in the magical two they represent. No more lonely ducks…

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2 Responses to “Companionship”

  1. Kendall Says:

    Companionship. Two. One. Solitude. Intimacy. These themes braid through our lives. Beautifully written, Leif, and I love the photograph included.

  2. leiflife Says:

    Yes, dear friend, these themes do braid through our lives. Our lives… Thank you.

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