touched its cold body. Then I woke Jean up and told her the duckling was dead.
It rained all day, and we stayed inside playing Monopoly and jacks, too
depressed to even watch the ducks' return from their daily excursion. Jean's
father removed the dead duckling from our room, but that night I lay awake,
haunted by the memory of its unhappy little cries. The phrase Friends of the
Ducks kept running through my mind with painful irony, and I wondered if we'd
overfed the duckling or hadn't cared for it properly—what mistake we'd made
that had resulted in its death.
A few days later,
Jean's parents took us to a marine research laboratory in Booth Bay Harbor.
There wasn't much to see there except some boring photographs of sea life, but
our guide—a man with a weathered face and a crisp but friendly manner—seemed to
know a lot about nature, so I told him about the duckling, hoping he'd have an
idea why it died.
reason wild ducklings just don't survive in captivity," he told me.
"But that duck would surely have died no matter what you did. That's how
nature weeds out the weaklings and provides food for other species. Maybe it
seems cruel, but it's no good getting all worked up about things like that.
After all, the gulls have to eat, too."
I knew he was
right and from his point of view, Jean's and my efforts didn't seem admirable,
but sappy and misguided. It came as a surprise to me that by rescuing some
preyed-upon creature, I wasn't helping nature but interfering instead.
Capturing that duck had only postponed the inevitable, and about all I'd really
succeeded in doing was depriving a gull of its dinner.
After that, as
the man at the lab had advised, I tried to adopt an accepting attitude whenever
I saw a gull or a seal devouring a stray (ducklings seemed to be a popular
delicacy in those parts). I tried to tell myself that the duckling was a runt,
or sick, but now that my outlook had been tempered by a healthy dose of
reality, it struck me that Miss Elmendorf's enthusiasm had been slightly
overdone. Mother Nature's handiwork isn't always that inspiring.