This morning as I walked by our pond, I saw a Mallard with her seven newly hatched ducklings. I kept my dogs under control as we walked past the pond while the mother duck quickly gathered the babies to keep them safe from us predators. I was ambivalent about seeing this family of ducks on our pond. I love seeing them, love the fast-swimming, sweet-chirping, fuzzy little ducklings, but I have watched too many be killed at our pond by crows and other wildlife. Ours is not a particularly safe pond for ducklings. Year after year I observe their numbers decline as the days go by. One year, a mother duck lost every single duckling in the space of three days. I wondered about her, whether she was a young mother, inexperienced in protecting her babies, unwise in her choice of ponds. Did she have better luck in succeeding years? How did she cope with her terrible loss?
I often recite this poem, Wendell Berry’s “The Peace of Wild Things,” to soothe myself when life is particularly challenging.
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water,
and I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
The line, “I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief” has been both balm and occasional curative for my worried mind, but today I had to wonder. Does this Mallard mother truly live in the present moment? Is she never taxed by forethought of grief? She is a vigilant mother, always attentive and ready to steer her young to safety. Perhaps she does indeed anticipate the terrors that lurk around her, and worry and fret for her children’s lives, as Wendell Berry does. Perhaps it is only our wishful thinking that there is a way to truly live free of such anxiety and fear.
Still, I try to accept what I cannot change and release unhelpful worry. I try to have faith that whatever comes in life I will have the capacity to endure it and maintain some modicum of equanimity and composure and never lose my integrity or courage. And still, I, like Berry, return again and again to what feels like the peace of wild things, whether or not it is truly peaceful for them. And, like Berry, it is in that grace that I, too, find a taste of freedom.
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and So, You Love Animals
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Filed under: animal intelligence and emotion, Inner Peace, MOGO (Most Good), reverence, values | Tagged: animal behavior, baby animals, despair, ducks, fear, Inner Peace, poems, values, wildlife, worry | Comments Off