Just last week, I wrote, “I’m barely into animals and I rarely fall down rabbit holes of YouTube animal cuteness.” And I meant it. Until a couple of days ago, when I needed to simply duck out.
I’d hit a wall and needed some respite.
There’s always beauty in the world, but there are times when it slips into the background, upstaged by a streak of darkness. I won’t drag you into my political or personal well of despair, but I will say that recently the grind has felt endless.
Grief pulled ahead of joy for a bit in that great attentional tug-of-war that is day-to-day existence. My awe practice worked for a minute at a time but was no match for history-making catastrophe. Like most humans, feeling powerless isn’t my optimal state.
I needed a day…perhaps even just an hour…perhaps even a minute…to reclaim my grounding.
On dark days, I visit my high priestess of poetry, Mary Oliver, and head out for a stroll. She came to the rescue, as always, and on this glorious day, she brought ducks.
I’ve been spending a lot of time with Mary Oliver lately. Yes, I know that, in some sense, she’s dead. But for me, she’s very much alive. In fact, I caught a glimpse of Mary a few days ago, when I was seeking sunset by Chicago’s lake-that-thinks-it’s-an-ocean.
It was a calm golden hour when the lake left off of its giant swells and crashing waves – a day when my lake remembered to be what it’s ‘supposed to be’ – a peaceful, glassy reflecting pool of indigo ink. Masts swayed in a gentle breeze as the sun slid down, stirring colors about: bubblegum pink hugged baby boy blue, melting into saffron and curry.
Mary’s presence was just as vital as if she was sitting across from me, taking a sip of tea, out by the lake, watching the duckies swim, capturing every minute movement with her eagle eye, all while beseeching me, “Pay attention. This moment. All the inspiration you need is right in front of you if only you’ll open your eyes.”
Because Mary was strolling by my side, I remembered to pay attention as if this moment was a gift. Which, of course, it was.
And in this moment of lake-mindfulness, presence, and calm, a chaotic, haphazard family swam into the scene.
Ducky Fleet on the Move
Sunset Duck Brigade
At times, this was a calm journey for the little fleet’s first walkabout (swimabout?).
At other times, mom simply needed to demand more discipline.
Momma ducky was in training mode, complimenting and cajoling her newborn fleet, as they did their ducky cardio routine. Teeny tiny palmates, erupting from stumpy legs, worked so hard and so fast. It was like watching desperation in motion. Or determination. Or itty bitty ducky Olympics.
And, for my benefit, my new ducky friends allowed me to make art:
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen amazing duck feets…ahem…and also duck feats before. I mean, it’s hard to compete with this duck, who medaled in a marathon.
But these little ones seemed special. Perhaps because I was immersed. Perhaps because Mary Oliver was guiding me to pay attention. These were no ‘sitting ducks.’ And they were certainly not ‘ducking out.’ No, these ducks were 100% in the moment. And I was right there, swimming with them, allowing them to guide me through my otherwise entangled reality.
One of the many things I adore about Mary Oliver is that she has a poem for…well…everything. Her words are a healing balm that lifts me from my doom and gloom. Pieces of the following poem were dancing about my mind while I took my lakeside stroll, so I’m sharing it for your enjoyment. Here is her gentle invitation to this moment, right now – a moment to appreciate (and shape) your life. And also to enjoy the drinking of duck-infused water.
Mornings at Blackwater
by Mary Oliver
For years, every morning, I drank
from Blackwater Pond.
It was flavored with oak leaves and also, no doubt,
the feet of ducks.
And always it assuaged me
from the dry bowl of the very far past.
What I want to say is
that the past is the past,
and the present is what your life is,
and you are capable
of choosing what that will be,
So come to the pond,
or the river of your imagination,
or the harbor of your longing,
and put your lips to the world.
“Living my life” – Mary’s plea at poem’s end – has been complicated lately. My personal and professional work has been centered on upheaval, grief, and adversity. My sage, Mary, reminds me how sweet life can be. How sipping water flavored by feet can actually be a treat. That there’s a rich river of life to swim in, along with other duckies, navigating the same pain and joy. That I’m capable of choosing this moment – this perfectly good moment – in which to dwell.
When life feels scattered and my thoughts and spirit bereft, embracing all that I love is the best way to re-ground. It’s not simply being in the present moment. It’s being serenaded by my never-met life-guide, Mary. It’s being welcomed into the dance by the duckies. And all this is possible with presence. A deep attention to details and dynamics. Absorption in nature calms the nervous system. Motion releases stress.
So, just for now, I’m filling up on this moment: now. On newborn duckies swimming as hard and as fast as they can while momma ducky lovingly supervises with a firm flap of the wings. I’m channeling my ducky friends and letting water roll off this duck’s back. I’m in this moment, with creatures who only live in the moment, and learning how it’s done. One palmate in front of the other. Maybe I, too, can learn to swim in the indigo sea.