Thursday, July 31, 2008
The Pat Rothfuss Escort Service.

Today I was driving downtown and I saw a momma duck walking down the middle of the street with six little baby ducks following her. Downtown Stevens Point isn't really a bustling place, but there's still two lanes of traffic, and she was walking right down the center line.

I did a quick job of parallel parking, which turned out even more lousy than my usual. Then I hopped out of the car and made sure that they got out of the road okay.

The babies were still really young. They still had their baby fluff, and were smaller than tennis balls. Mom was taking small steps to they could keep up, and they were all trucking along to keep up with her, none of them ever falling behind by more than a foot and a half.

The other thing I noticed is that if she stopped moving, all of them sat down immediately. They did it in unison, six little duck butts hitting the pavement all at once. Then when mom started going again, they all bobbed back to their feet and started following her again.

Momma duck eventually headed off the road to the sidewalk and hopped up the curb. I was surprised that the baby ducks could make it up there too. But they did, bouncing up a sheer wall three times taller than they were. It was really cute. Hallmark cute.

I walked with them the five or six blocks to the river, stopping traffic when they needed to cross the road. I thought I might need to herd them too, but momma duck knew where she was going, and I only had to steer once to keep her going the right direction.

That said, she really didn't like having me around and made it clear whenever I got too close. She would snap her beak, and the feathers on the top of her head stood up. I had no doubt that were I to cross some invisible line, she would bring all sorts of momma-duck wrath of god down on me.

A lot of the drivers I stopped of didn't care for me much either, and their mouths made similar snapping motions behind their windshields when I stepped in front of their cars and held out my hand for them to stop. Luckily, this is something I can do with incredible authority. I worked in a parking ramp one summer, and that was the skill I carried away. I can stop a car at thirty feet with a hand gesture no matter what the driver might think of me.

However, people didn't stay pissed for long. Once they saw what I was doing, everyone was full of smiles and willing to help. I believe, given the chance, the vast majority of people are eager to do the right thing. I believe that people are good, and that most of the ugliness in the world comes from folks being thoughtless, or misinformed, or simply inattentive to the world around them. No one willingly runs over baby ducks, but it happens all the time because people aren't careful.

Sometimes you need someone to step out in front of you and say, "No. Stop. Look at this thing that's about to happen. Think about what you're doing. Attend. Be mindful." Whatever you call this impulse, I have a great deal of it, and it's constantly leading me to step out in front of moving cars. Metaphorically speaking.

Everything said, it took about an hour for me to escort the ducks to the river, and the milk that I'd left in my car got hot from sitting in the sun too long. But the truth is this: walking those ducks to the river was the best time I've had in months. Maybe longer. I felt good afterwards, better than I've felt in a long time.

It's strange for me to admit this, but a lot of my life has felt very hollow lately. Many of my days are not particularly good days, though I would be hard pressed to explain why this is the case.

I've had fun, don't get me wrong, but a lot of it has been fun like eating one of those giant Pixy Stix. It's great while you're doing it, but afterward, you don't really feel.... good. It's not a substantial experience.

I need to think on this. If an hour spent helping some ducks feels like the most worthwhile thing I've done in a months, I probably need to re-examine my life.

That's all for now folks. Have fun, but look out for ducks while you're doing it. And if someone steps in front of you and holds up their hand for you to stop, you might want to slow down whatever you're doing and have a second look around, just in case.

Fondly,

pat

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