(I want to share a story with you, one that touched my heart this past week.)
The secret of change is to focus all of your attention not on fighting the old, but on building the new. Socrates
Change is the constant, the signal for rebirth, the egg of the phoenix. Christina Baldwin.
It was on Saturday, a warm breezy August Saturday evening as we walked along Marquette’s lakeshore bike path, that my husband Cam blurted out, “You know what is going to be hard for me? Letting the decoys go.” It is on these walks that we catch up with each other, tackle the topics that are drawing us in at the moment, and, on this particular Saturday, we were envisioning a less rooted life, less grip on home and possessions, a good cleaning of the house where we have lived for thirty years. And, of course, when we lighten our load, it will be the decoys that he will miss.
You see, it is ingrained in Cam, this love of birds, especially waterfowl — and, in his younger years, duck hunting used to be a part of this passion. In fact, it colored our beginnings. I met him in the autumn of my freshman year at the University of Maine. I lived in Kennebec Hall, he in Aroostook and our meals were served across the street in York, and that’s where I first set eyes on him, in the dinner line on a balmy October evening. He was with the Aroostook guys, I with the Kennebec gals, standing in a line that wound its way out of the cafeteria and into the hallway. There was plenty of time to start a conversation as we crept forward. And it wasn’t the red L.L.Bean chamois shirt he was wearing, the yellow CAT trucker hat, the faded jeans that caught my attention. It was the thing dangling around his neck that called me in. “What’s that?” I asked pointing to the wooden whistle-type instrument he was wearing over the red chamois. And that’s when he did it, drew it up to his lips, pursed, then blew into the mouth piece. Granted, it wasn’t flute beautiful, the sound that quack quack quacked its way through the dinner line, but I felt the call, fluttered my wings and flew in a little closer. So there you have it, a mallard duck-call brought us together, and the kiss that sealed the deal, a month later, was on a gray November afternoon on the coast of the north Atlantic, with the waves splashing the rocky shore and a black and white old squaw bobbing in the chop. Ducks have always had a tender place in Cam’s heart and he brought me into the flock early on.
And six years later, after a wedding and a baby, while living one thousand miles inland in Ann Arbor, Michigan, it was the ducks that I believe saved my young husband from metaphorically drowning. It was in his third year of dental school at University of Michigan that we moved into student housing, into a townhouse, complete with downstairs, upstairs, and a basement, a basement big enough for washer and dryer, a sewing space for me, and a workshop for Cam. And it was there in the basement, in those precious moments where he wasn’t immersed in the rigorous beyond-stress-filled schedule of school, that Cam felt the pull to create something wild. It started with a black duck decoy he ordered from L.L. Bean, one with a wooden head and a cork body, a template that he could use as he moved forward with his plan. And then he set up shop with sheets of cork, and stacks of wood, and glass eyes and the broom handles he picked from the student housing dumpster. And he worked like a fiend. Mallards and golden eyes, bluebills and Canada geese, tiny black and white buffleheads, ducks on alert, ducks with bills tucked under their heads, ducks with butts perched high in the air. Our basement became a raft, a raft of ducks that kept my guy afloat. He lifted himself up, grew wings and flew himself through those last two tough years of school, then flew himself north, joined a dental practice in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. And the ducks, they flew north too. And duck hunt Cam did, duck-call dangling around his neck. He built himself a layout boat, and, with duck-loving buddies, hunted the lakes and bays and shorelines of the far north of Michigan. Until, he didn’t anymore. Lives got busy, his and his friends, and the ducks, Cam’s ducks, were tucked away in huge mesh bags, stuffed up into the rafters of our garage, where they have sat for nearly thirty years, landlocked, silent and undemanding, without as much as a quack. But then this past weekend, Cam, who must have been thinking about the garage filled with clutter, awakened the flock. As we walked the bike path, as we mused about new possibilities, Cam was contemplating about the old, the old carved decoys. “Who would ever appreciate them?” he wondered. “Who could possible care?”
So, that was Saturday. And then it was the next day, Sunday, Dinner and a Movie Night at Joy Center. And I’m not sure why I brought it up. It had nothing to do with the The Post, the movie we were about to watch, nothing to do with journalism or Pentagon Papers. Perhaps it was Cam’s comment about decoys the day before still stuck in my mind that initiated my babble as I began quacking out the story of the college dinner line and the duck-call around Cam’s neck. Perhaps it was because BG had just arrived, BG, who had never been to a Dinner and a Movie Night before, BG, who I’ve known for over thirty years, BG, who writes poetry and essays, novels and plays about the the Upper Peninsula, his family camp on a wild lake, his love for duck hunting. Perhaps I was being a good hostess bringing ducks into the conversation. But I swear to you; I was not being matchmaker and no synapse in my brain connected any dots. I was as shocked as everyone else when Cam looked directly at BG and asked, “Do you want a raft of ducks?”, as shocked as everyone else when Cam then scooted home and returned with two decoys, a bluebill and a bufflehead, a token offering of a much larger gift, shocked as everyone else when BG said, “You all don’t understand; this is the best day of my life!”, shocked as everyone else when he added, “This is like being ten years old and going to an uncle’s house and not being told ahead of time that it is Christmas.”, as shocked as everyone else when the two ducks sat beside BG like his new best friends throughout the entire movie, shocked as everyone else that Cam’s raft of ducks had so easily and quickly found their way down from the rafters and into the arms of someone who was about to set them free.