The sharp pain in my fingers tells me of the cold, of the subfreezing temperatures. Hours I spend roaming around the lake, walking here, kneeling there, standing motionless in each spot as I seek to feed my longing for nature’s bounty.
Perhaps gloves would make a prudent addition to the winter armor I wear: a tee shirt, a sweatshirt, and a jacket over them both. But gloves would make the camera unwieldy, unworkable. More so than the fumbling of fingers bitten by frost and stiff with the season’s icy embrace? I suspect as much.
Each footstep crunches through grass thick with ice, every blade a glassy spectacle. When I turn and face east toward the morning sunrise, light dances upon the ground and casts winter rainbows in every direction. The world seems covered with glitter.
Even the pier at Sunset Bay is slick with ice. I step carefully and still slide here and there. Fear tells me I shall soon fall into the lake; my love of nature tells me to go on, to continue, for my heart burns with a fire that cannot be extinguished even if doused in the lake’s dark waters.
How long I stand there I do not know. Fifteen minutes? An hour? Longer? The question is moot for it never seems long enough, never enough time to see all that can be seen, to wallow in splendor only Mother Nature can provide.
Too many times I find myself wiping a tear away. I lament nothing more than my longing to stay in this place, and the exquisite painting which constantly changes before me. No better canvas can be found, I know, and I whisper as much to no one in particular.
Visitors from far and wide make this place their home during the cold season. I can always find magnificence throughout the year, but it increases a thousandfold as migrants arrive from all parts of the continent.
Yet in an intriguing way, I find myself drawn to two ducks who make this place their home year-round.
One an Indian runner duck and the other a crested Indian runner duck (both Anas platyrhynchos). I see they are males, statements made clear by the declarative curly tail feathers.
Only recently have I been able to identify this species despite having seen them here for many years. At least a dozen runners live at the lake.
Their center of gravity rests further forward than in other ducks; therefore, they do not waddle on land. Instead, they must stand upright and walk. Seeing this for the first time explains why the name “runner” applies so well.
My mind drifts back in time to when I first witnessed this strange occurrence. . .
Watching a duck stand up in such a way and practically run made for quite a scene, at least in my own experience. One photo taken and all I could do then was stand and stare, look on as this strange creature ran along the shore like some avian intrigue sent to confuse the locals. Locals like me, that is.
When finally my thoughts drift back to the icy pier upon which I stand, I lift the camera and snap a photo as the ducks pass by me. Even as I do this, I realize something about the second duck is wrong. Very wrong. . .
My eyes lock to its position as it paddles from the lake toward the confluence. Many of its brethren and cousins already find themselves there, many bathing as first light dapples through the bones of the world, naked branches drawing bizarre pictures with shadow.
I strain to comprehend the cause of my sudden unease, my sudden heartache for the second duck. It is then I zoom in with the camera to snap another photo. As I press the button, the LCD screen reveals the blade that has pierced me so.
Only then does my weeping become manifest. Tears draw cold trails down my cheeks like icy tendrils. My thoughts race to the conclusion my heart already knows: unless the duck can push the plastic rings forward and off its beak, it will die. Perhaps it will be of starvation, but more troubling than that, perhaps it will be of dehydration, a warrantless death in a place defined by water.
I speak aloud the vehement curses for that person so ignorant, so heartless, as to throw this loaded weapon into an environment where it poses a blatant risk. Sobs fail to mitigate the anger.
I find myself twice wounded: my heart bleeding from anger’s stabbing pangs whilst my sorrow pours forth into the chilly waters below me.
Nothing can be done, I realize, except to hope this bird can free itself from the shackles that bind it. Yearning tells me promises I wish to hear; reality tells me such horrors rarely end with fortune.
Finally, after drained of might by my own emotions, I turn the camera off and walk carefully back toward land, my eyes upon the slippery wood planks beneath me, my ears hearing the crunch of ice with each step. That noblest part of me, however, remained at the end of the pier. It stood and watched that duck, stood there and begged it to let me help, stood there knowing I could do nothing but let the crimson pour from my heart on the dagger of rage which had pierced it.
What cruel inhumanity possesses our species to be so careless, so thoughtless? What feeds this megalomaniacal ignorance and apathy towards nature?
As for me, I sit here even now, even a day later, and fight the antipathy I feel toward our species, toward humankind, for the senseless slaughter of innocents, for the greedy and selfish wanton destruction of our home and its inhabitants. Were I the last man on Earth, only then would I feel nature safe from our savagery.