Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Wish of a Friend -- "Please Look After My Ducks"

Dennis (a domestic, Black Swedish duck) and Davy (a Khaki Campbell duck) look out over a frozen Boat Lake in Central Park.
Dennis, Davy and their two mallard pals. The four ducks (two wild and two domestic) enjoy an unusual relationship and are the concern of a cherished friend temporarily off her feet.
It wasn't the happiest Christmas in a year that has been characterized by personal and political losses.

After suddenly losing a dear friend several months ago to a recurrence of breast cancer, another cherished friend has been hospitalized on and off over the past two months for what was at first, a deep vein thrombosis and is now cancer of the reproductive system.

My friend, Liliana, has long been a valued ally in the quest to look out for the wildlife of our Central Park and has even assisted me in several rescues of injured or ailing ducks and geese.

During the brutal, punishing winter of 2014 in which thousands of water birds perished due to starvation on ice-covered lakes and ponds, Liliana often assisted me in helping feed the hundreds of desperate geese and ducks wintering at the Central Park Reservoir. We still lost some birds, but thankfully most survived.

A lovely story about Liliana and her efforts to support NYC wildlife was published two years ago in a respected travel blog.

But for more than two months now, Liliana hasn't been able to get anywhere near Central Park.

She is barely able to walk. And last week, she had to undergo a hysterectomy.

Liliana is due to begin chemotherapy and radiation shortly.

News of Liliana's illness has been painful for me to learn, not only because we share a love for animals and wildlife, but because she has always been so kind and giving towards me. Liliana has always been a woman of very meager means. But she would spend her last dime or day of life to help an animal or human in need. That is just who she is.

Liliana isn't always easy to understand due to her thick Romanian accent. But we could still share the laughs, tasteless jokes and even laugh at ourselves.

But, the jokes are harder to crack and come by now.

I try to make light of the situation by telling Liliana that she needs to "get up and atom soon!" because the geese and ducks will be expecting her to show up with bagels, cracked corn and whole wheat bread come January and February. But the jokes fall flat.

We both know Liliana's not going to be "up and atom" anytime soon.

Memories of my own mother's (uterine) cancer and hysterectomy in 1967 and its long, difficult recovery make me pause in terms of fanciful illusions about my friend. My mother was fortunate in that she did fully recover eventually. But she never had to undergo chemotherapy or radiation as Liliana will.

Seeming to sense traumatic memories of seeing my mother all battered up in a hospital and appearing like the loser in a prize fight, Liliana has been adamant in demand that I not visit her in the hospital.

"I have everything I need!" Liliana admonishes. "My brother, people from the church, bring me food and other things. I don't want you to come! What I would like is that, if possible, you look after my boy and his friend and let me know how they are doing. I am worried for them on the frozen lake."

Liliana's "boy and friend" are two male domestic (flightless) ducks who have been toughing it out on the Central Park Boat Lake for the past several years.

There were originally four ducks, but two have recently disappeared and likely perished over the past several months.

During the recent "arctic blast," all of Central Park lakes and ponds iced over, including the Boat Lake. (The Reservoir remains open water and that is where virtually all the geese and ducks are currently.)

But because Liliana's "boys" cannot fly, they are stuck on the Boat Lake for better or worse. (Ironically, there are two mallards hanging with them which is surprising considering the mallards can fly. Presumably, there is some kind of relationship among the four water birds.)

Recent visits to the Boat Lake have illuminated a kind of frozen tundra with just a small pool of open water not far from the Ladies Pavilion.   

There, Dennis and Davy (as I call them) and their two chummy mallard pals are making do by either resting at the edge of the ice or swimming in the water as circumstances dictate.

This is not the boys' first rodeo (i.e. winter on ice).

Having survived the particularly brutal winter of 2014, both ducks are extremely proficient in knowing how to deal with and navigate an iced-over lake.  

The challenge (as Liliana knows) is to ensure that the birds have sufficient food to get them through the lean times. Hopefully, I and a few other caring people can take on that responsibility as long as need be.

Temperatures have fortunately warmed over the past few days to above freezing. While such has served to widen the open pool of water, more than 95% of the lake remains frozen and likely will remain that way until March.

The two domestic ducks and their mallard pals so far look good and are dealing well with adversity and challenge.

But, it is a very long winter ahead.

I pray that both, my friend and the ducks she so worries over will come out on the other side of winter, in vibrancy and health. 

But so much remains to be seen in these tough times of unpredictability and loss.

We have to find way to ride out the darkness and storms and prevail to the other side -- when spring again looms over the horizon.   -- PCA 


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