Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Robert McCloskey, meet Justice Roberts (Duck!)

A gray morning, with commuters starting to stack up at stoplights, and instead of the usual lone bicyclist (me), there are three of us in a row, a virtual cycling rush hour. Into this arterial steps, with all the aplomb a mother can muster, a Mallard duck, followed by three babies. They proceed to mince across the bike lane, straight into traffic. It happens so suddenly, the last duckling almost gets smacked by my front tire, and by the time I stop, they are halfway across the first of four lanes.

What are they thinking? The other side of the street is a shopping mall. Who knows? Stupid ducks.

This is what goes through my head.

A kinder, quicker-thinking driver is already stopped, out of her car, and waving at the other cars. The ducks make it to the other side, and disappear into a photinia hedge which borders the parking lot. A miracle.

Wheeling around to continue on while pondering odd duck behavior, the commute is interrupted again by a squeal of brakes. This time it isn't waterfowl. It's me, absentmindedly rolling across a driveway in front of a moving car, which stops inches from my right leg. The driver widens her eyes meaningfully and toots her horn. "It was the ducks!" I want to tell her, but who cares? The ducks are gone, and the driver almost had her day wrecked by an inattentive cyclist. Let's not think about what almost happened to the cyclist.

Shepherding ducklings through traffic is a good deed in the finest Robert McCloskey tradition. But what if their journey is doomed, and, like moths battering against a porch light, they are fated for an untimely end? What if stopping for waterfowl causes a serious crash involving bicycles and car bumpers, human blood and guts?

Blood is spilled for sillier things. Ever watch a football game? So much hoopla and serious commentating, and always blood and guts (speaking as one in a household of Oregon Duck fans).

Is a Mallard family camping out under a photinia any more foolish than sucking aquifers dry to maintain green lawns in a desert? Or buying oil from terrorists?

No.

As for bicycling while under the influence of daydreams, is that the ducks' fault? Remember the old TV show "Paper Chase" about a first year law student at Harvard, when Professor Kingsfield chastises a female student with: There is no excuse for a disorganized mind (or the equivalent). The ducks provide a reminder: be ever vigilant. Pay attention.

And for better or worse, we are like those ducks, blithely heading to the mall. Never mind yesterday's Supreme Court ruling that henceforth campaign stop signs and donation speed limits will be illegal. We have faith. Some kindly corporate board will surely stop and Make Way.






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