Driving home from work, I stopped off at the video store near Knollwood Mall. As I approached in my car I had to stop for a young woman who was walking around in the middle of the street blocking traffic trying to guide a mother duck and three ducklings across the busy four-lane street to safety. Other interrupted motorists began to voice their discontent with the young woman, using their automobile horns. The young woman however, precariously out into the middle of the busy rush hour thoroughfare, was undeterred , and continued her quest to encourage the mother and her ducklings off to the side of the road. The problem was, the mother duck was unwilling to be herded to either side, choosing instead to cross the busy street repeatedly, back and forth, to return eventually each time to a particular grate covering a storm drain. Seeing the drama unfold before me, and feeling the heightened tension brought on by the swelling honking horde of irritated motorists, I thought to exit my car and enter the fray of events; to help this daring young woman. But alas, what could I do, I thought, except add to the apparent chaotic futility of the moment.
I eventually was able to pass by the young woman and the stranded ducks, and into the parking lot of the video store. I got out of my car and stood there to see this young woman lay face down at the curb and peer intently down the storm drain. I wasn't sure exactly what she was doing, as the mother duck in obvious distress continued to wander into danger, out into the busy road with her three panicked ducklings following her every move.
The young woman suddenly rose to her feet and, much to my surprise and abject disappointment, walked off down the street and did not look back. She had decided the situation was hopeless: the mother duck was trapped and this young woman was giving up and could no longer bear to watch what was to come. My heart sank into my stomach. "She tried," I thought. "At least she tried."
I entered the video store and attempted for several minutes to find a movie for my Friday evening, but was soon too distracted and depressed by what I knew was taking place just outside the window. The names and pictures on the colorful video boxes held no interest for me as they normally might, nor made much sense really in my new-found state of despair and futility: the ducks would be killed, the car would win, and nature would again be destroyed at the cost of the never-ending hurried progress of, well,.. me. What good is another movie gonna do me now, etc..
I left the store then as quickly as I'd entered, and saw the mother duck now across the street near the credit union building. Feeling that this might be my opportunity to whisk the mother and her two babies (only two now; I reasoned that one had been killed) to safety, I confronted the mother and physically barricaded myself between the three of them and the road and began to march them (much to the mother's vehement displeasure) across the parking lot away from the busy street and toward the trees and the hill beyond, to the waiting safety of Minnehaha Creek. I urged the mother through my words and body language that she had no other choice than to go in this direction. She balked at my every step however with her every physical move and vocal inflection. The two remaining ducklings, tiring and under great stress by this time, followed the mother's every move, as they had since I first saw them. I reasoned that the mother hesitated so because she wanted to go back for the other duckling who was now gone and lay dead I was sure.
After much struggle and coaxing, we finally made it to the banks of the creek, and with one last pause and look beyond from where she had come, the mother led her remaining two ducklings down the hill and into the water, where the three of them swam away. "Well, we lost one, but we saved the family of three, and all is well for the most part, " I thought. "I stuck with it when everyone else had given up. I'm a small hero of sorts! I've done good." My heart rose.
I decided to go back to the storm drain area to see if I could find the third duckling when I heard loud chirping near the grate. Perhaps the other duckling was nearby in the shrubs! Perhaps I could save it as well! As I neared the drain however the voices and volume increased. I looked down into the sewer to see not one, but eight trapped stranded ducklings in the hole. So this is what held the mother fast. And this is what captured the young woman so..
Realizing the storm drain cover would not budge, I crossed the street and was met by a woman from the credit union who had watched the whole dilemma unfold. She pointed toward the creek and frowned. I turned to see the mother duck returning with the two ducklings in tow once more, and it all became clear: eight ducklings trapped in the hole, the mother unwilling and biologically unable to leave them, four lanes of rush hour traffic unyielding, a grate that was locked and could not be lifted, and that would be that; a gruesome road kill end was at hand for the mother, the two ducklings would then succumb as well beneath the tires of busy motorists, the eight baby ducks in the drain would die eventually from hunger and thirst, and that would be it.
I dialed 911 with one last gasp only to be informed that the grate could not be removed to save the ducklings unfortunately. "At least you tried," the woman from the credit union consoled me, "at least you tried." My heart sank into my stomach for the last time.
But just then I looked up, and there was the young woman who had walked away earlier! She was carrying a box and a three foot-long clawed gripping device of some sort! She had walked off to the Target store a quarter mile down the road, apparently purchased the best tool available, and returned! My heart rose first back into my chest, and then upward into my throat! "Whatever it takes now," I thought. "Whatever it takes."
While the credit union woman kept the mother from returning from across the street, this brave young woman lay down at the curb and reached down into the drain with the clawed tool and, as I shielded her head from the oncoming traffic with my presence in the busy road, she began to pull the ducklings one by one, and twice two by two, up from their hopeless trap, blindly holding each out at arms length for me to grasp and deposit into the waiting box, before pursuing back down into the sewer for the next. When the last of the eight was hoisted from the drain, we ran across the street together, where the mother could hear her babies crying closer now; her excitement was palpable. We hurried to the top of the hill, where the four of us (the young woman, myself, the woman from the credit union, plus an onlooker who had enthusiastically rooted us on the entire time) emptied the eight ducklings from the box where they quickly joined the mother and two siblings; a family once more. The mother and her 10 babies then scampered down the hill to their watery safety. To watch them all swim away was the thrill of a lifetime. We all hugged and shook hands. "You did it!" I said to the young woman, my voice quavering with emotion. A bit stunned to be sure, we all smiled, nodded, and went our separate ways, back into our lives.
What did I learn from this experience? That even the most mundane and routine moments can suddenly become amazing life and death drama, that given a choice, it's better to get involved when someone's in trouble than it is the alternative, that the inherent love and devotion of a mother duck is overwhelming, absolute and true, and that one courageous woman with an heroic heart and a mind made up, is better and made more strong, than a thousand cars.
- R.J. Gronewold; Minneapolis, 7.7.07.