Evening stroll

I see them walking along the boulevard, evening sun hanging low in the winter sky, long shadows stretched toward darkness in the east.

A pair of wood ducks (Aix sponsa) walking toward the lake shore (2009_04_10_014501)

She window shops, sometimes walking ahead as her excitement pulls her forward, eyes settling on the next shiny bauble, hopes reaching for the next sparkling trinket.  And he, always watchful, always protecting, speaks quietly to her, reassuring her that he is near, that she is safe.

A pair of wood ducks (Aix sponsa) walking toward the lake shore (2009_04_10_014504)

They are but one couple, two pedestrians in a sea of pedestrians, commoners finding the day’s last bit of warmth to wrap in as evening approaches.  The street has the feel of a carnival, a festival of life bubbling over on itself like boiling water spilling from a pot.

A female wood duck (Aix sponsa) walking on barren ground (2009_04_10_014508)

I watch them with the fascination of a child unwrapping gifts.  I scarcely can look away from such a handsome couple, yet it’s more than her subtle beauty and his flashy confidence.  Something about the unspoken passing between them, the constant secrets that bind them together in whispers, the safety and comfort they exude even in the face of the city’s hustle and bustle.

A male wood duck (Aix sponsa) walking on barren ground (2009_04_10_014511)

It occurs to me as they draw near that perhaps my surreptitious observation has not gone unnoticed.  Several times I see him looking in my direction.  Is he looking at me? I wonder, Watching me watch them?

A pair of wood ducks (Aix sponsa) walking toward me (2009_04_10_014515)

Then she turns and walks directly toward me.  He follows.  Have they seen the man across the plaza who has been watching them so closely?  Have I been clumsy with my eyes, let them linger too much?  I fidget, avert my gaze, try to settle my view elsewhere, and all the while I think it makes me more obvious.  I would have been better served had I simply shifted my eyes a bit, glanced by them at someone else, looked at a tree with expectation, watched the fountain as it splashed water against the sidewalk.

A female wood duck (Aix sponsa) walking up a hill (2009_04_10_014523)

Then just as suddenly, she turns and walks across the road.  He remains with her, both elegant and unhurried in the face of civilization’s sense of busy.  Cars drive by, the sound of footfalls echoes in the air from all directions, voices carry into the looming night, yet through it all these two, these marvelous, beautiful wonders, never let themselves be caught up in it.  Their stoicism is comfortable, a warm blanket in winter, and they wear it without a pompous bone in their bodies.

A male wood duck (Aix sponsa) talking (2009_04_10_014540)

They reach the other side of the road very near where I sit.  As they begin to turn the corner and disappear from sight, he glances back, looks right at me, gives a brief tip to his hat, and says, “Enjoy the evening, sir.”  Then he flashes a brief knowing smile before vanishing around the corner.

And I’m left with only the retreating sound of her heels on concrete to remind me of what was.

[pair of wood ducks (Aix sponsa) seen at White Rock Lake]

20 thoughts on “Evening stroll”

    1. Thank you, Jain! I’m a big softy–which is probably obvious–and I’ll admit the storyteller in me likes to find tales that help me remember the beauty I see. In cases like this, those stories make a better anecdote than anything I can ever say about what I saw.

  1. Jason your stories are always fascinating and intriguing. Wood Ducks are one of my favorite birds that I have yet to capture a decent photo of.

    You have done a beautiful job showing this pair in all their glory. I always thought that the handsome male took the prize for his colorful suit but you have caught the magic of the female Wood Duck in her spectacular flash of iridescent blue. A true vision of beauty.

    1. You’re much too generous, Larry. Thank you!

      I’m guilty of the same thing: I’ve always felt male wood ducks were unequaled in beauty. And though I stand by my claim that wood ducks are the most beautiful duck species on the planet, I’ve since learned that the stunning display of males really doesn’t compare to the subdued majesty of females. She could beguile me without any effort…

  2. Bravo Larry. Well said. Jason these are magnificent photographs. Yet again the personalities of your subjects are beautifully captured, not to mention the delicacy of their liveries. I think I’m in love with this pair of birds. Their plumage is so exquisitely ‘painted’ that they’d surely make marvellous models for me.

    1. I appreciate it, Clive! I can’t help but think you’re much to kind and giving. Thank you. And they are marvelous, aren’t they? I can’t think of a more beautiful duck than these creatures. As much as hawks are my life’s totem, wood ducks are my life’s holistic joy: what medicine they are!

    1. Too funny, Mom! I hadn’t thought of that. I did project a great deal of humanity on their stroll about the shore, but I hadn’t thought about her dragging her man along to show him off to the rest of the world. And wow! You’re as right as rain.

  3. I’m amazed that these Wood Ducks were so comfortable in an urban environment. They must be accustomed to this – the only Wood Ducks I have ever seen have been very reclusive and very much about sticking close to cover. If you had asked me if a pair of Wood Ducks would stroll down the sidewalk, I would have have said, “not in a million years!”

    What a wonderful post and pics!

    1. Thanks, Amber! I don’t know why, but the whole time I looked at these photos I couldn’t get the image out of my head of a man and woman strolling through the busy city streets, hence my little “tall tale” to go with the photos.

      My struggle with these ducks was not getting them into the open: they’re gregarious and joined a lot of other birds on the shore, like coots, mallards, geese, doves, grackles, and so on. The issue was trying to get pictures of the ducks without all the other birds in the frame. Out of perhaps 50-60 photos, only these had the ducks “in the clear” as it were. Everything else was a crowded mess.

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