Duck in a pond by the shore

‘Has she always been like that?’ ‘How old is she?’ ‘Does she have a condition?’ Speaking has never been my strong point. I have always been better at expressing myself and articulating my thoughts in written rather than verbal form. But now, sometimes, I feel that my voice is being taken away because there is an assumption that I cannot speak for myself. All of us have multiple identities, but when a particular part of your body ceases to function properly, it is as though these multiple identities contract and you become a simpler, distilled version of your former layered self. 

This, in turn, makes me think about invisibility. As a child, my longed-for magic power was to be invisible, so that I could ‘disappear’ when I felt a sense of danger. Now, part of me still covets invisibility but for different reasons; it makes me happy when people walk past me and ignore me, as if I am invisible. It makes me feel accepted and ‘normal’. Yet, when people ask my Mother questions about me, in front of me, it makes me feel like a ventriloquist’s doll; I can only speak through her, when she gives me a voice and moves my mouth. I am rendered invisible through an assumed voicelessness. 

If your own voice is briefly taken away from you, where does it go? I wish I could give it to another creature, to momentarily connect with it, to know what it wants, to know whether and how I might help it. The duck at the local pond initially had seven chicks, I was told. I only ever saw six of them. They grew incredibly quickly. A few weeks ago, there were only four of them, as well as their mother. The others had flown off. Two weeks ago, just two remained. And a terrapin, probably an unwanted pet. Yesterday, there was just one duck. She looked a mess. Ruffled and dishevelled. I realized that her two wings were crossed over each other and sticking up in the air. The RSPCA said that it sounded like ‘angel wing’. This is a condition where a joint in the wing twists, leaving the duck unable to fly. This duck will never fly. The RSPCA said that they will not intervene because ducks can survive with angel wing. Maybe they can, but what quality of life will this duck have? Does she feel sad and lonely? How will she manage in winter when it is cold, when food sources dry up and she cannot fly off to find new sources?

Nobody can help. If I can catch the duck and take it to one of the animal welfare centres, they will find a home for it. However, they will not come out to rescue it; not enough resources, there are many ducks with angel wing, etc. A lady at a local animal hospital agreed with me that the duck’s predicament is very sad but stressed that this bird has never known anything different. She will never fly, but she has never known what it feels like to fly. Who is to say that this duck needs to be in an animal sanctuary just because she cannot fly, the lady asked? It is like saying that someone who has a disability cannot go outside or has to live with other people with disabilities. Does she have a point? I’m not sure. I find myself once again thinking about voice. If only animals could talk. If only they could tell us what they want, how they feel, when they are in pain.

What does any of this have to do with resilience? The duck, it might be argued, is demonstrating resilience by dealing with adversity and using the resources that she has around her; the pond, the things she finds in it to eat. Are my efforts to try and get help for her potentially rupturing her own connectivity with her wider ecology? Maybe the broader point in all of this is that sometimes, when we try to help, we actually effect disconnects that are detrimental to resilience.

The wildlife artist Ila France Porcher underlines that ‘…if you feel empathy for the ducks [referring to those she writes about in her book] at times, it is only natural’.[1] I feel empathy for the duck with angel wing. I feel sad thinking about her. The duck also makes me think of the core CSRS concepts of expansion and contraction. Several times, the duck spread and expanded her wings, as though she was getting ready to take flight. She couldn’t. I think of the irony of the term ‘angel wing’. Angels can fly. Angel wing is a deformity that resists against the urge to expand and fly. It keeps the duck in a contracted state of non-flight, of ‘groundedness’, of limited movement (to emphasize another CSRS theme). Within the duck’s own body, there is a fundamental dialectic between (desired) expansion and contraction. This intersects with my own desire to help her, which, while well-intentioned and aimed at expanding her chances of survival, might actually further contract her life world.  

[1] Ila France Porcher, The Spirit of Wild Ducks: A Work of Cognitive Ethnology (2019).