For several hours I watched the red-shouldered hawk nest hoping Artemis would shuffle to a new position that might afford me some photographic opportunities. She habitually settles too deep into the nest to be visible from the ground, let alone photographed, so eventually I walked away resigned to seeing only her mate as he patrolled the area, visited her, and played cat-and-mouse with the local crow ensemble.
Walking up the hill alongside the park entrance road, home visible at the edge of the open woods, I paused at the slightest bit of movement hiding in my peripheral vision. Something lurked on the side of the road. I knelt at the edge of the blacktop to watch.
By no means a rare encounter as mallard ducks (Anas platyrhynchos) are year-round residents, I still found myself intrigued and beguiled by what most would consider a pedestrian species. Call me simple, but to my mind the common is as breathtaking as the once-in-a-lifetime.
I settled beneath a canopy of sunshine and watched them as they meandered toward me. Amazing how nothing more complicated than ducks tending to their day can be such an entertaining show.
Finally she turned and started across the road.
But she reached the opposite side quickly even as he paused to inspect some shiny trinket. And this allowed just enough room between them for a car to intersect their path.
Having seen me and having realized I was watching something around the bend that he could not see, the driver slowed as he approached. This gave him the opportunity to stop when he realized the ducks were in the road. Stopping, I should point out, which resulted in the automobile resting between the drake and hen.
And the drake did not like that.
He lowered his head and gave a brief charge coupled with a hiss.
The driver, an elderly man smiling with the energy of a star, recognized the predicament and reversed for little more than one full turn of the tires. The distance was right. The male responded with a quick prance across the road.
Where he rejoined his mate.
They wandered off peacefully, waddling down the opposite embankment and vanishing from sight.
I turned to the man driving the car, gave him a smile and said, “Thank you.”
His smile brightened such that I might be staring into the sun. He waved as he replied, “My pleasure.”
Then we both went our separate ways.
Now days later as I relive those brief moments, I am reminded of the day a few years ago as I drove my parents to the airport to pick up Sharon, my aunt who was flying in from New York. Mom sat in the back seat, my dad belted in beside me in the passenger seat, each of us giggling like school children in the face of constant levity.
On a rural road barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other, bright summer sunshine pouring down just as it had on these ducks, our laughs halted as a coyote dashed across the concrete in front of us. At speed, we would have hit it.
I braked with fervency, an act that just about threw my mother into the front seat, and we came to a stop beside the coyote. I could have tossed a feather onto the canine’s back for its nearness.
And in that moment we looked at each other, the three of us humans and one lone coyote. None of us moved.
Stopping. So simple an act of kindness.
We drove away after a few moments. In the mirror I could see the coyote where we left it, still standing in the tall grass, still watching after us as we vanished in the hazy heat of the day.
“Thank you,” I heard it say.