Sunday, July 2, 2017

the turtle and the duck and the eternal question

I was driving home from the corner store, about five miles up the road, when I saw a turtle ahead in the middle of my lane. I slowed down and swerved left, just a bit, in order to place the turtle more precisely between the wheels of my car rather than underneath one. It was just a middlin’ size turtle heading east, going from one large chunk of woods and farmland, creeks and rivers, to another. His head was out, his neck stretched its full length. I passed over him. When I looked in the rearview mirror I could see his head was retracted and the truck behind me was slowing down, swerving slightly to the left. The truck behind that? I could not tell. I can only hope that the turtle survived, got where it wanted to go.

I have been known to stop for turtles to help them cross the road, but last night with two trucks behind me and an ice cream cone in my right hand that turtle was on its own. The only reason I had gone to the corner store was for the ice cream. They started serving cones this spring. The first time I saw the sign—Now serving Jilbert’s hand-dipped … —I came near to braking, swerving into the store’s gravel parking lot right then and there. I should have a bumper sticker: I stop for turtles and ice cream. But I don’t.

Yesterday had been a good day. On the way home from the market, as I was passing the turn for The Drive-In, I thought about turning and stopping at The Drive-In for a fish sandwich, French fries and root beer float, but I had it in my head that I had to get home and now I don’t remember why. I couldn’t remember why yesterday, either, once home, and the thought of the taste and smell and grease of those French fries lingered, eventually morphing into the reality of a Mackinac Island Fudge waffle cone at the corner store that dripped a bit as a turtle crossed the road directly in front of me halfway between here and there. It made me think of the ducks.

That morning, on the way to the market, on US41/M28 alongside Teal Lake, a mother duck waddled across the road followed by her ducklings. There were six or seven of them. I caught them out of the corner of my eye. The road is undergoing construction, the two Marquette-bound lanes reduced to one, the speed limit reduced, I was listening to Hamilton, Act I, and the ducks were nearing the lane I was in but not quite there yet, they were heading for the lake, single file, one right behind the other, waddling along, cute as could be, I was leading a pack of cars, I saw the ducks, I slowed down, I could not stop. I watched in the rearview mirror as the car behind me slowed, did not stop. I kept looking, could no longer see the ducks, but I did see that the truck that was behind the car slowed down, stopped.

Up ahead was a stoplight. It was red. I crept toward it while continuing to look in the rearview mirror. I couldn’t see but felt sure the ducks were crossing safely in front of the truck that had stopped, were waddling by single file, still cute as could be, looking as if they owned the joint. But there were more lanes to cross, oncoming traffic—one lane? two? with construction, I don’t remember—but the light was red. All oncoming traffic was back there, on the other side of the red light, waiting. Could it be? Could it really be that life was this orderly? This kind? This aware? So thoughtful? People waiting at red lights? People in trucks waiting for ducks? Could there truly be on one early morning enough time and good happenstance for a mother duck and her string of ducklings to cross what is normally a four-lane highway with a speed limit of 55 miles per hour without losing a step, a web, a feather, a bill? As I had passed that mother duck she had not paused and pulled her head in like a turtle, no, as far as I could see she had continued heading straight to the lake, no stopping, no turning back, no matter what, waddling on. Did that really happen? Did she have time to get across? Did her ducklings have time? And why do ducks and other animals do this crazy stuff? Why do they cross the road?

Somehow, I think it’s on Facebook somewhere. There’s a picture of a mother duck (I’m guessing a mallard) leading her ducklings across US41/M28 at Teal Lake. Traffic is stopped. Someone takes a picture. Someone tells the story. Someone tells a joke about ducks crossing the road to get to the other side, and there’s a happy ending. And if there’s not a happy ending, I’d rather not know.