The Farmington River rushed high the other day, about the width of a three-lane highway, moving at a good pace after a weekend of heavy rain. I spotted a single male Mallard duck with a glistening emerald-green head. Usually, the ducks are in a group of pairs along the muddy edges. He came around a tight bend alone, about eight feet from shore, where the current was the fastest, and the surface the glassiest.
He was clearly just riding the river. I burst out laughing because he was such a tiny creature surrounded by all that water, all those trees and sky, and I could tell he felt really good. He had no intention of stopping or changing his mind. Clearly, it was just so much fun. There was no need to turn around or to fly away.
He kept gliding along as if—well, as if he were part of the river. Which he was. I kept watching until he slid out of sight beyond the farthest turn. I was sad to see him go, but he was on a mission. And this is what struck me: from the moment I spied that duck, I loved him. It made no sense.
I stood wondering if this is how God viewed me. Was I like that, just moving along, loved from a riverbank, and I didn’t even know it?
A melody sprang from within, matched perfectly with the lyrics. I had not thought of this song, in all honesty, in several decades. We sang it at the 10:00 a.m. folk Mass when I was a child. Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me. I would say that the duck qualifies as the “least of my brothers.” All alone in the tranquility of the woods, my connection to nature pointed me to how I love, how I might be loved.
The heart is the heart, joyous and free. It makes no sense that I loved that little duck. Love just is. I’m dumbfounded by the mystery of it all. I’m reminded again that delight and beauty are right here. He’s a duck. Not as cherished as a trilling lake loon, not sonnet-worthy like a duet of white swans. Though some might dismiss him as underwhelming and ordinary, he showed me possibilities. With a cap of iridescent feathers, he rode that river for all he was worth.