Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

Duck, Overloaded With Metaphorical Resonance (and possibly chips)


This isn’t a very good picture because I took it with my phone in a  hurry, but for the last two weeks this duck has been living outside my place of work, swimming around apparently quite contently in this muddy puddle in the parking lot.

It’s rained a lot so there’s no imminent danger of the puddle disappearing. I’m not sure what ducks are supposed to eat but I’ve seen this one pecking at the ground as if eating insects; he’s also been getting hand-fed quite a few castoffs from students’ snacks and lunches. Generally the students have been treating Duck as a bit of a pet, but I heard another staff member say he’s also seen some students being “unkind” to Duck which is pretty awful.

On the other side of a busy four-lane road from our office and Duck’s puddle, is a large pond with a beautiful walking trail around it. It is full of ducks who appear to be living happy, normal duck lives.

Admittedly this duck, who was photographed on that very pond a couple of months ago, has the advantage of a better photographer and a sunny day, but s/he does look happier than our parking lot Duck above, doesn’t s/he?

Apart from worrying about what’s going to become of Duck and whether leftover chips will kill waterfowl, I can’t help viewing the situation metaphorically. I’ve always been a big believer in a sort of bloom where you’re planted/ brighten the corner where you are mentality, and I like St. Paul’s great statement, “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content.” So at first glance there’s something very attractive to me in the sight of a duck paddling contentedly around a puddle, blissfully unaware of other ducks and ponds nearby. Duck has learned to be content, I think, with a small life; Duck is not ambitious, not discontented or yearning; Duck is making the best of what Duck has.

But then I view the image a little differently and think this is just so sad. Duck is living such a limited and possibly dangerous life, all unaware of greater freedom and opportunity just a short distance away. Wouldn’t it be better if Duck had at least a little duck discontent and wanted to seek out broader horizons? Because, of course, such horizons do exist, and not all that far away….

It is impossible for me not to apply this duck-philosophy to various aspects of my own life. My writing life: I am relatively happy being a little duck in a little puddle, but yes, I do dream about bigger ponds to swim in, even though I know that I would be one duck among thousands more and I might be dwarfed by the hugeness of the pond. Is it better to be content with a modest success than to strive and possibly fail in bigger areas?

I think of duck spiritual lessons too. Duck in our parking lot has clearly not prayed the Prayer of Jabez — Duck is not asking God to enlarge Duck’s territory, partly because Duck either doesn’t know or has forgotten that bigger territory is even an option. Is it the greater virtue to be content with  a small life, a small field of service, or to strive to do greater things? I think again of Paul’s statement about being content in whatever state he finds himself in but then remember this statement did not come from a guy who was content to serve God by sitting home and making good tents, but who went on the road to bring a new religion to most of the Roman Empire … the biggest pond possible, in fact.

After a Duck-related discussion at staff meeting yesterday it was decided that we could not just leave Duck to Duck’s fate, and someone volunteered to call the city’s animal services to see if they could safely transport Duck across the road to the pond, to be released among the other ducks. So the literal problem posed by Duck will soon be resolved.

To the metaphorical questions posed by Duck, I see no quick or easy resolution, but only questions leading to more questions …


8 thoughts on “Duck, Overloaded With Metaphorical Resonance (and possibly chips)

  1. Dad used to use this verse in a certain sermon:
    My soul is like a barnyard duck
    Muddling in the barnyard muck,
    Fat and lazy with useless wings;
    But sometimes, when the northwind sings
    And wild ducks fly overhead,
    It ponders something lost and dead,
    Then cocks a wary, bewildered eye
    And makes a feeble attempt to fly.
    It’s quite content with the state it’s in,
    But it’s not the duck it might have been.

    • davidvanilla, I am 99% certain that I’ve never heard that poem and that the coincidence is impressive. The other 1% of me admits the possibility that I heard that years ago and forgot it, but that it sprang to my subconscious when I began thinking metaphorically about Duck in our parking lot. Either way, it fits perfectly with what I’ve been thinking and feeling.

      • Trudy, I did not mean to imply that your work was derivative; on the contrary, I thought you expressed an important idea very well. But it did bring back memories of my dad reciting the lines from the pulpit.

      • Oh no, I didn’t think you meant that — just that I was struck by the congruence between my blog post and the poem you quoted, and was trying to trace in my mind whether there was any connection. I really love these kind of unexpected connections!

  2. Maybe one can strive for a bigger pond, but while it happens, be content with a puddle and a chip. I hear you, though! I’m struggling for more in my professional life, and I’m slowly moving in that direction, but I see other moms who enjoy making creative snacks and planning play dates (all really sweet, enjoyable things) and I wonder if I should be like that. They’ll probably live longer.

    • Yes, the mom/writer dilemma is another angle of that desire for “more” (and uncertainty about what really constitutes a bigger or better pond!). But you know I’m very proud to see you flying overhead, Wild Duck Patty!

  3. The duck in the puddle is a she. Perhaps she is divorced from the handsome he in the picture below? Or just wants to have some space/peace/time of her own after raising a bunch of wild ducklings this summer?

    • Since we’ve since realized that Duck can actually fly and come and go as she (I’ll take your word for it) pleases, we have figured out that she knows how to get to the pond but is visiting our parking lot from time to time, presumably for food scraps. So you could be right.

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