They are elusive. I hear them. I catch glimpses of their fluttering, colored wings in the tree branches. I see the ripples in the icy pond. I know they are there.
But I can’t see them.
Not clearly. Not like I want to see them. I know from picture books and the internet that Wood Ducks are extremely beautiful. But I don’t want to see someone else’s picture of a duck. I want to see the REAL THING! And I am patient.
Every spring, when they stop over, looking for a nesting site, I peer and I stretch and I hide in the bushes, trying to really see these wood ducks close up. I sit out in the cold and the snow, shivering with my camera or with my binoculars, watching. Waiting.
This is what I see:
Isn’t that spectacular? Yeah. They are blurry, far away, hidden in the branches of every tree in the forest. I can’t really say I have seen a Wood Duck, when I have only seen blurry shadows, darting past.
Now, some intelligent people I know have told me what I should do. “If you really want to see the Wood Ducks, make them a house!” They say. “It’s not hard. The ducks need a wooden nest box. Build one.”
Of course that sounds easy, but these people obviously don’t know my severe hammer and nails deficits. And if I have to use a saw, forget it. So, through my own ignorance and lack of initiative, I sit in the shrubs and in the cold, waiting.
Hoping to see a duck.
Wishing to see a duck.
I get kind of cold and mad because I can’t gaze upon the beautiful duck.
So what would I say if someone asks me “Have you seen a Wood Duck?”
I would answer yes. Yes, I have.
“Okay, then what does it look like?” that person might ask.
“Oh, a Wood Duck is gloriously beautiful! I have seen pictures that show vivid colors and bright plumage…”
“So you haven’t seen it yourself?”
“Well, blurry flashes, now and then. I sort of have seen one.”
“So how do you know they exist? You never REALLY saw a Wood Duck.”
“But I have! I see shadows and ripples in the pond. They live right in my backyard! They are real!”
How? I cannot. I know that they exist. I know that they are there, nearby. I have seen flashes of feathers. Glimpses of color… But I cannot prove to you they are real. I don’t have one to hold in my hand. I can’t show you. But I believe that one day, I will finally see a Real Wood Duck.
I believe that.
This scenario sounds so familiar…. Applicable to more than Wood Ducks.
How can I, for example, tell someone that God exists, if I can’t even convince someone that a Wood Duck exists?
I can sit out in the snow with my camera for the rest of my life, and still never prove to you that ducks or God exist, that they are real. That’s out of my control. But I trust that somewhere, someday, you might catch a glimpse, if you are persistent in your search.
One recent autumn day, I was at church when an eighty year old gentleman I know tapped me on the shoulder.
“Do you want to bring your kids over to my house?” He asked me. “I have some beautiful ducks they would really love to see.” Honestly, he didn’t know my quest to see ducks. We went to his home later that week, to visit with him. I was stunned. I knew that he had ducks. Decades ago, he had a pond in his barn, I remembered. But I didn’t know the extent of his love for ducks. He had gotten rid of his cows, built a duck habitat in his heated barn, pumped in water from a nearby pond, circulated it through his homemade pond in his barn, and built many nesting boxes.
And right there in a red wooden barn, in a field in the middle of Nowhere, he had cared for many exquisite, beautiful creatures from all over the globe. In collaboration with the University and a local zoo, he raised ducks from Africa, South America, Asia, North America, and the Pacific Islands. Wow. He had ducks. Duck wisdom. Duck understanding. Duck knowledge. And he still had some of those incredible ducks that he had raised, now preserved through taxidermy.
And from all those ducks, the Falcated, Baikal, Ring, and Cape Teals, the Buffleheads and other long tailed and fancy feathered varieties, the man reached out and gently placed a Wood Duck right into my hands. A Real One. It wasn’t moving or squawking, but we all knew that many years ago, it had. The feathers glowed with intense, rich colors and intricate patterns. The Wood Duck was amazing and lovely.
It was Real.
If you wait and watch, someday, maybe a gentle older person will tap you on the shoulder.
“Do you want to come with me?” He will say. “I have an amazing treasure that came from a barn that you would love to see…”