A Parable of the Ducks: Reflections of a Roman Catholic Woman Priest

We have so much to learn from all of God’s creatures. When I moved to this unincorporated part of the Fort Myers area of Florida almost 25 years ago I was looking for something. I loved my home in Connecticut near the West Hartford campus of UConn where I taught Social Work for fourteen years. That was a big change from the New York City high rise where I lived when I taught at NYU. And I was a city girl, born and raised in Brooklyn and living in Manhattan for many years. In Manhattan I missed the yards, green grass and trees of Brooklyn. In one older NYU faculty housing building I was on the third floor and just loved the tree touching my window. Then I moved to a larger apartment on the 24th floor and green was gone. But I gained a literal bird’s eye view on the world and loved that too. Yet, the city was increasingly busy and I found myself longing for nature more than busy-ness and crowds.

West Hartford, Connecticut restored my green and that grounded me in a very basic way again. But for many reasons, after fourteen years, it was time to leave for a warmer new world and a new teaching job brought me here. As my partner, Judy Beaumont and I looked for a home near FGCU where I would teach again and develop the Master in Social Work program, we walked off the beaten path that the Real Estate agent gave us and found a big solid house with a small lake behind it.

The house appealed to us, but as we stood out back and felt the power of the little lake with its many creatures, the words of the 23rd Psalm came to me, and the voice of God whispered: “I am leading you beside still waters to restore your soul”. Judy B felt the peace of this little lake as well. And it was here that our souls were indeed restored. Together and singly each of us returned to our call to serve the homeless and to renew our relationships with our loving God and God’s people, especially those living on the margins. And as we did this our spirits were fed as we lived by and with our little lake and its creatures. Whenever life was difficult I went out to the lake and immediately a spirit of “Thank You God!” filled me. Whenever I was so distracted by life’s events that I forgot my Thank You to God, it would be quietly and strongly renewed right there. What a holy place!

I call this a “parable” , or story with a spiritual lesson like Jesus taught, “of the ducks” but all types of waterfowl and the peace and activity of the little lake teach me daily. This small lake seems to attract the young ones and the old ones of many sorts of water fowl.

Above, near our “decoy” duck, a family of Moorhens gather. These little birds develop bright red beaks when mature and they compete with the ducks and ibises, young egrets and herons and much larger birds for food and nesting spots. The Moorhen parents are courageous and slip right into the feeding sites to get food and feed the little ones. The little lake sustains them but in the winter particularly there are so many new species stopping by on their way south that my little feeding station where proper waterfowl food is provided is most welcomed. From the Moorhens we learn size does not matter-find a way to do what you have to do!

Below is a young Cormorant. She dives deep for her food and sometimes travels alone, unlike many other birds. She darts and dives and after eating will spread her wings to dry them. She lets us know that it is also possible to be a single self, a beautiful self sufficient being who enjoys life in the fullest.

Below is a family of beautiful brown ducks. Unlike the Cormorant or Anhingas who also dart and dive and appear as singles, brown ducks-wood ducks or mallards or other types of brown ducks love staying in groups. Family groups and groups of agemates and groups of varied ducks love to swim and eat together.

They are somewhat shy and skittish however and back up when the larger Muscovy ducks or a group of ibises are around the feeding station. They seem to gather their courage and approach and get some food. Yet, it is remarkable to note, they often fight among themselves and discipline one another such that the other birds will get the food. When they are finished chasing another brown duck away, most of the food is gone. I try to feed them when few are around and even then they are busy having tiffs with each other.

What if the brown ducks could cooperate more or at least not chase each other away when food is available? With some animals dominant members do that with the less aggressive members of the group. But I can not tell if this is about dominance or just a way of life for these beautiful little creatures. I do know that the other species at the feeder get lots more of the food. Selah- we shall pause and think that over.

Above is a single Ibis-rarely seen as they travel in groups.

Below is a Mama Muscovy duck and her young. She was a happy regular for quite a while and trusted this place enough to have her young here. She hatched them right next to my house behind some bushes. It was a thrill to actually see them hatching and emerging into the world under her watchful care. The father Muscovy sometimes kept watch in front of the bushes but mostly she was a single Mom. She was so proud of her ducklings and loved taking them for a swim. Sadly a few weeks after they had learned to swim and forage Mama duck was killed, possible by a small alligator that came into the lake. We saw her going under with the ducklings not far away. We only actually saw a small gator a few weeks later and, thankfully, he left as quickly as he had come. The ducklings kept together and grew and survived for a while longer but slowly, one by one, none were left. I like to think they found safety, but I was so saddened by this. I angrily said to myself that Mother Nature is not the protective mother that Mama Duck was. For a while I was out of sync with my lake, having seen enough of death and loss in recent years I did not want to see it there, in my “Holy of Holies” place. Papa Muscovy was a lone figure for a long time. But, recently he has returned with a new young lady friend, actually two of them but one more favored. Wishfully, I have wondered if they are not two of his now grown ducklings that he shepherded to a safe spot. The life on the lake remained and grew strong. And in time I realized that God was still there. Life went on and, still remembering Mama Duck and her family, each day I continued to communicate with God there as before.

Mama Duck and Family

Below are the Ibis coming to eat. Usually there are many more and they are so fast running between all of the other birds that they steal food right out of their mouths and catch anything dropping to the ground. Perhaps because they come in large groups they need to be adept at getting the food. The numbers of them overwhelm others who have to back up and let them in, even much bigger birds. They do not compete with each other but together approach a larger bird eating. they are sure to get at least some of it. So if you are smaller and hungry, running in a group makes victory possible. They are like an organized community and thereby they are successful at getting what they need and want. There is a lesson in that for us.

Above two Whistling Black Bellied ducks , perhaps from Mexico or Latin America, stop by for a month or so and join the Ibis and other ducks in resting by the side of the lake. It is amazing that all of these varied visitors are peaceful with one another. All get to rest as needed and to eat in the lake and at the feeder. On somedays they are all at the little feeding station together and, as my dear Grandma would have said it is a League of Nations of birds! But notably, they are not fighting or even disagreeing, they are sharing space and resources together. And there is a parable if I ever heard one!

Bless you in this New Year as you inhabit the earth with so many varied and beautiful others each with so much to teach,

Pastor Judy Lee, RCWP

Good Shepherd Ministry of Southwest Florida-1/13/2023


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