Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Protector Needing Protection

Yesterday (Saturday) after running some errands, I returned home and noticed some messages on my phone.

Will get to those later, I thought to myself. More important now to get to Central Park and check up on Binky.

I tossed some wild bird seed in a plastic sandwich bag and headed to Turtle Pond with my dogs, Tina and Chance. Old rock tunes, compliments of CBS radio played through my headphones. "We set on the Sloop John B, my grandfather and me," the Beach Boys sang as I closed the door behind us.

The sun had just set and I therefore expected to find Binky and most of the pond's mallards on the large, open public rocks at the east end of the pond. That seemed to be the pattern of late. Binky was, after all, well on his way to becoming a duck!

But, as we began to approach the patch of rocks on the dark, muggy, Saturday night, I started to get a sinking feeling.

Everything seemed eerily quiet -- as if all the energy had suddenly been sucked from the air. A sense of foreboding came over me.

And there, in the short distance, I could finally make out that the rocks appeared mostly empty. Only the two duck families were on them. Marina and her three older ducklings and "Juno" with the four younger babies.

Where's Binky? Where are the rest of the ducks?

After a few minutes, Marina and her three ducklings took to the water, swimming away in what seemed some sort of mission. Juno, meanwhile stayed on the edge of the rock looking out towards Marina. Did Marina give the younger mother orders to remain while she went off to look for Binky? "That crazy goose. Where the hell is he? He's supposed to protect us!"

But, there was no sign of Binky anywhere or for that matter, all the other ducks that typically reside at Turtle Pond. Where were they all?

I took Tina and Chance over to the small pier at the west side of the pond. Perhaps Binky had returned to the smaller rocks that were actually situated in the water and isolated from the public areas of the park? They of course afforded better general protection and I had seen Binky there before.

But, those rocks too, were completely devoid of any birds.

I then became worried and uneasy. Binky wasn't in his usual places and he wasn't swimming on the pond. Where could he be?

We returned back to the main, public rocks on the hope that we had perhaps missed Binky before. But, of course he wasn't there. Only Juno and her babies were still there at the rocks edge, mere inches from the water. Juno appeared nervous and ready to bolt, so I did not approach the anxious family.

I sat for a while, looking over the then, desolated and empty rocks. T

This was the place that only a couple of nights before was so alive with clattering ducks and a young, flightless goose who was just trying to figure out his way in this new and foreign world. -- a world without his family. A world with this new group of feathered friends who both welcomed Binky and squawked at him as if to remind that Binky was the bottom bird on the totem pole -- the "odd duck out" so to speak.
And yet, the mallards obviously liked hanging out with Binky has they had, the rest of his family. It was a bizarre relationship to figure out. One of mutual need, but also, disdain. "We really like having you here, but don't get in our face. Know your place!"

But, now there was no squawking, clattering or jockeying for position.

There was no family of geese taking their position at the top of the rocks, while the mallard moms and ducklings rested towards the bottom seemingly happy and peaceful to have the protection of the geese -- especially the ever vigilant papa goose.

There was just darkness, an eerie silence and an obviously nervous mother duck seemingly waiting for something -- the return of Marina and her family, or better yet, Marina, ducklings and Binky?

For some crazy reason, I too, felt less safe in the park than I normally do, especially when the geese were there. There was just something less welcoming and more foreboding about it now.

A large bird took off from somewhere around the pond and flew towards the skies. I could only make out its hazy silhouette against the background of dark clouds. It was either a night heron or red tailed hawk on the prowl.

Suddenly, "Love is Blue" came over the radio and I found myself once again tearing up.

I had really loved the family of geese and especially their wingless child, Binky. Where had they and it (the love) all gone?

There was no question about it now. Both, the family of geese and Binky were gone. -- Perhaps forever. Even the ever-cautious and wily ducks seemed to know that. I figured most of the mallards were probably hiding out in the long grasses and marshes surrounding the pond. The open rocks, without the geese (or even one flightless gosling) were no longer safe for them.

The walk towards home with the dogs seemed long and deserted. There were even very few runners on the running path surrounding the Reservoir. A part of me considered walking north to Harlem Meer, just to enjoy the Canada geese and ducks up there. Since the return of the geese, life at the meer had suddenly become one big, lively party! So much "life" as contrasted to the now disquiet of Turtle Pond and the Reservoir -- especially without the geese.

And without the geese, the ducks too, seemed to disappear or at least, maintain a very low and quiet profile. A few ducks swam lazily upon the water of the Reservoir seemingly without direction.

But, the hour was late and my dogs were showing some fatigue from the warm, sticky weather.

Bobby Fuller Four sang, "I Fought the Law" (and the law won) on the radio. How appropriate, I sadly thought.

We returned home.

I went to check messages on my phone, expecting to hear the usual. "I'm calling about a dog we saw on Petfinders" or, "I'd like to know if your shelter can take in any cats?"

But, the first message was from an urban Central Park Ranger named, Sunny.

"I'm calling about the goose with Angel Wing at Turtle Pond that we spoke about a couple of weeks ago. We finally connected to the sanctuary and he was relocated Saturday, the 21st....If you have any questions, feel free to call us........." The voice sounded open and cheerful.

How ironic that I did not listen to messages before leaving for Turtle Pond! Binky had apparently been rescued!

I sat down to consider the new and startling information.

Although Binky was showing amazing resilience, courage and adaptability to his situation and though he might well have been able to survive throughout the rest of the summer and into fall, there is little question that Binky would not have survived the winter when Turtle Pond would inevitably freeze over and the ducks would have to leave to find unfrozen waters.

It is better that Binky is rescued now before getting too comfortable and cozy with the ducks who would only be forced to desert him later. Binky is only three months old. There is plenty of time for him to adjust to a new environment, new people and new animals. Hopefully and presumably there are geese at the sanctuary. Binky can return to being a goose.

But, while the missed call represents good news for Binky, I am not so sure about the ducks at Turtle Pond.

Remembering Marina swimming determinedly on the pond last night with her three surviving ducklings behind her and Juno waiting anxiously at the rock's edge, I can't help but wonder if they too, were seeking Binky?

"Where the hell are you?" I could imagine Marina squawking in avian language. "Get your butt over to the rocks!"

Hopefully, other geese will arrive soon as they did at Harlem Meer to both protect and amuse/annoy Marina and the rest of the mallards. Yes, the ducks both seem to love and hate the geese and I think the reverse is also somewhat true.

The geese say, "These ducks are pains in the butt. But, they know their way around the turf and they know the good guys and bad guys here."

The ducks say, "Yeah, we like having the damned geese here. They help us feel more safe and secure. But, they are so full of themselves and they think they own the lake! We'll show them who's boss!"

Actually, I don't think either the ducks or geese will ever admit to actually liking each other.

But, they sure as hell seem to need each other and do much better when the other is around -- "pain in the ass" or not.

As for Binky, I am just glad to know that he is at long last, safe.

Sometimes, it is the protective Canada goose who in fact, is the one who most needs the protection. -- That only we could explain that to the ducks. --PCA


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