The story, behind the photo.
“This is not what we trained for.”
Mornings consisted of a.m. Ballet or Western Civilization classes. Afternoons were voice lessons, show choir, and nights of rehearsals or work-study shifts in the theatre. Rounding out the late nights were evenings in the computer lab or practice rooms, editing photos and working up music for the next day. We were constantly training for something.
No one was training me to be a mom.
My roommate and I sophomore year of college were enjoying the slightly slower pace of the year’s end. Looking out our living room window, we could see a most wonderful sight. A family of ducks, a mother with a flock of fledglings in tow. They were passing right down the sidewalk to the street. We put on our shoes to watch them go.
She must have been leading them to the Mississippi River, which wasn’t more than a few blocks away. They would arrive at their promised land, and grow up to be beautiful, wonderful flying creatures. The world was in good form today.
We commented to ourselves phrases like, “Wow! This is amazing!” and “Look at those little things, they’re so cute!”
Yet when the mother duck crossed the street with her family, our words quickly turned to…
“What the F&ck is she doing?!?”
We watched in horror as this mother lead her entourage right over the sewer grate. The spaces between the metal bars were exactly duckling size. Every single one of them followed her and disappeared, one by one, into the sewer.
Very quickly I learned that there were a lot of things I didn’t know about in the world. They all hit me at once.
#1: Mother ducks don’t understand street grates.
#2: I have no idea how sewers work.
I ran through the scenario in my head. The mother goes to the end of the sewer where the babies wash out and catches them there. Or, this is par for the course and she jumps in with them for a safely guided water cruise to the river.
Assuming my superior knowledge over the kingdom of ducks in human construction matters, I decided there was NO WAY she could know more about where this underground system of tunnels went. Because I didn’t know. And considering that she had continued walking down the road, she wasn’t going to go get them.
It was time to put my hero hat on.
Becoming a Hero
This was my first time losing something so valuable to a sewer grate that I needed to pull one up. But there was no question, those little ducklings were right there below us and we weren’t going to let it stay that way.
Surprisingly, the grate came right up! Also surprisingly, the water level was quite low. My roommate held my legs while I awkwardly dangled into the hole, scooping up ducklings and returning them to the street. It was his job to both keep me from falling in and make sure they didn’t walk back in the hole.
We got them all out, returned to their mother, and replaced the grate.
In no time, the most-likely-flustered mom returned to her journey for the river.
Straight in the direction of the next grate.
Becoming a Mom
“Nope, not on our watch!” we said gallantly. Most likely, between two sophomore theatre students, we must have said something theatrical and inspiration-inducing.
We became watchful moms, guarding the grates and urging the mother duck to go around them. Who knew how many more they might encounter? We had worked too hard to let this duck lose her kiddos again. Plus coming up soon were the big roads. No way could she safely navigate traffic.
So we stopped traffic. And escorted our little entourage all the way to the big river.
Secretly, I have always hoped one day for a strange duck visit. One that was a little too friendly, that just wouldn’t go away. Maybe even sit on my lap and make duck purring sounds.
In a moment of recognition, I would remember the sewer. We would have our moment, and it would fly away. Enough, that would be enough.
Let’s be honest, with that mother at the helm those ducks probably got ran over by a boat.
But for a day, I became the hero and the mother those ducks needed.
Is this a great photo?
Not in the least. But the story it represents is. Included are lessons for us all.
We don’t know what we’ll do or what we’re capable of until we are put into a situation. I had no idea I could lift a sewer grate. Or that I would for any particular reason. Also, doing the right thing may have negative consequences for the doer. Here they were small, a tardy on my attendance perhaps. Rather, we learn to see the bigger picture. Running to class and leaving those babies to their own devices could have spelled their doom. It was important to do the right thing, and that is something the world could use a lot more of these days.
Stew on that for a while today because now you know…
The story, behind the photo.
This is part of a series I call “The Story Behind The Photo”. Here I collect pictures of seemingly nothing…and break down the back story. A true example of how a photo can be worth a thousand words. My hope is to encourage you to look not just at your photos, but the greater world around you, and think more deeply about what it is you see.
Story and photos ©Ian Hanson. All rights reserved.