This blog originates on the banks of the Atchafalaya River, in Louisiana. It proposes to share the things that happen on and by the river as the seasons progress. As the river changes from quiet, warm, slow flow to rises of eighteen feet or more, there are changes in the lives of the birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles that use the river. And the mood of the river changes with the seasons. I propose to note and comment on these things.

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Location: Butte La Rose, Louisiana, United States

I transitioned a few years ago from a career as a water-pollution control biologist. I want to do this blog to stay in touch with a world outside my everyday surroundings, whatever they may be. I like open-minded company and the discussion of ideas. Photo by Brad Moon.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Wood Duck Thoughts

What is the difference between a thing and the idea of that thing? When we look at the picture of a wood duck, a close-up picture, one that fills the frame with the wonderful colors and feather patterns, what do we mostly think? Most of us think that this is a pretty duck, a very pretty duck that makes us wonder that it could be so colorful, and so finely detailed in every way. It is the structure we think of – the physical being of the wood duck.

I suggest that there is another way to look at wood ducks. It is the idea of wood ducks, rather than the reality of them. When you stand out on the river at first daylight, they fly up and down the river – sometimes landing in a tall tree, sometimes just swooping low to the water and then high over the trees – always making that wheep-wheep call that so much identifies them. At times like that you can believe in the idea of something that otherwise we think of only in physical terms.

When they fly together in small groups of four or five you can get the feeling of the wonder of flying. The idea of flight is so alien to us because we cannot do it, but it is so natural to those that are equipped for it. Freedom comes to mind when we see them fly. Freedom is an idea, a thought, not physical.

When ducks sail they can be making their final decision as a living being in duck form. Sailing ducks have a particular meaning for those who think ahead to rice and gravy. If they are sailing toward decoys, a hunter is experiencing that rush of emotional energy that precedes a successful conclusion to his efforts. Food comes to mind at that moment. The idea of food and that feeling of contentment following a good meal are ways to think of the wood ducks sailing.

As they land up in the trees, the ducks fly in the face of all we are taught to believe about ducks. Ducks land in water, not in trees. Except that wood ducks do land in trees. So the idea that these are different from the ordinary comes to mind, these animals that deviate from expectations. So maybe it’s ok to be different, we think. The idea of difference being something to be glad for is an idea that wood ducks bring to us, I think.

When the resting ducks find a place in thick branches they can be hard to locate. They can represent elusive beauty, or the idea of something worthwhile that we must hunt for instead of having it thrust into our awareness like a loud unexpected noise. That kind of beauty is often more satisfying because it is we as individuals who found it. Not having to share it with the crowd makes some things more special, somehow. Finding two wood ducks in a thickness of tree branches can be that kind of experience.

And then sometimes the wood ducks just stand up on top of the tallest dead willow tree they can find and announce themselves to the world. It is easy to see this and think of the ultimate grace in our relationship with wild things. The ultimate grace in knowing that there is something special up there in that dead willow tree, and we have been given the chance to appreciate it. The fact that we can look and smile at this indistinct image , knowing that the ducks are just as meaningful to us as they were in the close-up image I spoke about before, is what I mean by the idea of something.

The river is at 19.8 feet on the Butte La Rose gauge, rising to 20 feet by the 22nd. This is the highest it has been since we moved here in 1999. I have set out a tightline over what was our lawn – caught three catfish where I normally cut grass. The Ohio and Mississippi are both falling above Vicksburg so things should level out next week, and maybe start to fall after that.

Rise and Shine, Jim


Blogger Bryant said...

Great pictures Jim. I've hunted in the marsh for more than forty years and have never seen a duck in a tree. Of course, there aren't many trees in the marsh. Hope you haven't floated away with the high water.

April 23, 2008 9:17 PM  
Blogger jim said...

No, and not many wood ducks in the marsh because of that, I guess. We are not washed away yet and the river should start falling soon. It actually has falled about two inches already. Thanks for the comment Bryant. Jim

April 24, 2008 9:46 PM  

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