Ducks and Drakes

It is my day off so earlier today I drove out along the peninsula with a bag full of camera gear. I turned into the carpark at MacAndrew Bay, thinking that perhaps a leisurely coffee at a table overlooking the beach would be a good way to start taking photos but I had to swerve to avoid a great knot of ducks writhing its way across the tar seal. A young female, small and exhausted, was stuggling beneath a jostling mass of drakes, perhaps six or eight of them who were all striving to copulate with her. They grasped her and climbed on her, pushing each other aside, not fighting but careless in their single mindedness. I asked myself if I should intervene? Here was nature, red in tooth and claw, doing its normal everyday thing, and who am I to impose my anthropomorphistic disgust on a perfectly natural phenomenon? My inner struggle lasted about as long as it took to put the car in neutral and turn it off. I opened my door and approached them. They were so intent  that I got within an arm's length before they took notice of me. I could have reached out and banged a few heads together, but I clapped my own hands instead and they scattered, leaving the young female dazedly staggering across the car park. The drakes, some, fully mature with their dazzling green heads, and some no older than the young duck, looked briefly at their forsaken prize, then at me, and flapped energetically off in all directions. The duck looked at me, her saviour, and recoiled in fear, flapping tired wings and rising crazily into the air, at about head height,  flew straight past me and into the side of a passing truck. So much for intervention! There was a sickening thud and a tangle of feathers. She fell, dazed to the ground and lay there for a bit. One of the drakes returned and nuzzled her briefly and, slowly,  she rose and walked at his side across the road and into the sea. She looked, from a distance, anyway, to be OK and they looked fairly well bonded. So why hadn't he fulfilled his part of the bonding agreement and protected her from what might have proven the injurious or even fatal attention of the others? Weak or stupid, I guess. Or maybe just as young and inexperienced as she was.

I had lost any taste for coffee. I had lost any taste for taking photos. I drove home aware of my own deep measure of disturbance, and thinking about why this bothered me so much. You don't have to look far for evidence of people behaving with as much self interested disregard as those drakes, and, as often as not, justifying their cruelty with appeals to the naturalness and healthiness of their impulses.

Those drakes know no better. They are innocents. We do. We are not.


Alden Smith said…
Forest and Bird would say, “ If your coitus interruptus intervention becomes popular behaviour we will have to put ducks on the endangered species list”.

My now deceased friend Bob Goodfellow who was last seen on the Serengeti plans with the aim of trying to convince Lions to become vegetarians would probably say, “ Trying to dramatically intervene in the feeding and mating habits of animals just doesn’t work”.

God may say, “ Mate, don’t rain on my parade you’re not me”. Which of course raises some serious questions about the nature of God and his supposed creation / evolution (‘Red in tooth and claw’) - questions as serious as the point you are making regarding human choices / free will.

Many years ago I watched an interview with broadcaster Brian Edwards where he stated that if there did in fact exist some kind of ‘hail fellow well met’ kind of God you could sit down and chat with over a handle of Speights ( Aka a personal relationship) then he, Brian Edwards would consider himself morally superior to this God because as a good father, he Brian, would have come up with a much better plantary flora and fauna design and would intervene a lot more.

Personally I think he has a point. I would be prepared to hand back a percentage of free will to rid the cosmos of evil, turn us all into vegetarians and have drakes with manners a lot better than Mr D Trump.

The hard truth is, we are left with anthropomorphic ideas about God and silence - or more to the point - Faith, Works and SILENCE.
Kelvin Wright said…
Yes, it's my problem, I know. In this case I think the little gang of drakes may well have killed her if I'd let them alone - she was fairly small and young, and I know that I have interfered in the evolutionary process and all that... but still... seeing a creature in distress as she certainly was is hard to walk away from.

I don 't have such a great problem with nature red in tooth and claw. The perpetual struggle is what gives rise to the evolutionary process and therefore to the level of consciousness which is able to recognise no pontificate upon the problem of theodicy. Just as the process of mutation which drives the whole process must give rise to cancers and deformities. Brian Edwards might be able to envisage a universe which produces life and consciousness without struggle, but I certainly can't and anyway whether such a universe could ever exist is a matter of pure hypothesis. What we have is THIS universe where pain, diminishment death and cruelty are an inevitable part of the mix, and we must make our call: is this universe meaningless and random or does it all - the pack rapist drakes included - have purpose.
Alden Smith said…
The writer Stephen Pinker when commenting on questions of ultimate meaning or “purpose” states that if we were given the answer we wouldn’t understand it - the gulf in understanding would be akin to the ability of a worm being able to understand Einsteins special theory of relativity -there’s nothing new in that idea, but by addition he postulates that the brain capacity and plasticity required to dominate the planet has required an evolutionary trade off in terms of our brains - we can ask the big questions but wouldn’t understand the answers even if they were provided - we traded that bit off so we could do other things.

The mystics from all the great religious traditions say that we can make an approach and "experience" the “answers”, which are beyond language, through pursuing the path of contemplation and meditation. I think there is some merit in that idea which implies an ability to develop our brains, an ability which may be crucial for the planet in evolutionary terms. In the end (paradoxically) it may be that SILENCE holds some of what we are yearning for.

Although I cannot understand the exact nature of “Gods” [place holder] ultimate purpose, it doesn’t stop me giving “God” a bit of advice about how he might have tweaked the math in the eternal beginning - I am after all only human.
Kelvin Wright said…
Stephen Pinker has been a source of entertainment and enlightenment for a very long time now, though I strongly suspect that the metaphor underlying much of his cognitive science ; that of the mind as computer is as illusory as the metaphors from previous ages: the mind as a machine or the mind as an hydraulic system. These metaphors are yet another example of our propensity to dress up the unknown in our own culturally limited preconceptions.

I think it is possible to hold to the idea of purpose in the universe (and purpose is not the same thing as design btw) without knowing exactly what that purpose might be.I think of Jesus before Pilate, and Pilate's preempting of Steven Pinker's statement: "what is truth?" He was so tied to the idea that the truth was something you grasped (or failed to grasp) with your mind that he couldn't see that the truth was standing in front of him.
Alden Smith said…
I hold with the idea that purpose and meaning is something other than the final 'Unified field theory equation' or Deep Thoughts answer of "42".
But I am not sure that I could live in the paradox of holding the idea of purpose without knowing what that purpose might be. I would rather take a punt and bet the family jewels on purpose as a 'Way of being' encapsulated in the person / metaphor of the Christ (love, compassion, forgiveness, reconciliation etc etc) which we personally incarnate into the world by way of an individual transformative journey.

Knowing that we live in a world where this process continued towards some sort of totally inclusive Omega point for all living beings would make the collateral damage along the way a lot more bearable - but this knowledge is not given to us or guaranteed and as you have pointed out we have to deal with THIS universe as it is (and speculating on ultimate things is a way of the dealing with it and finding meaning and purpose).
TK Roxborogh said…
a reflection on the Bishop's morning meditation.

Earlier today I
drove out along the peninsular
a bag full of camera gear
coffee at a table would be good.

I had to swerve to avoid
a great knot of ducks
writhing its way across the tar seal;
A young female
small, exhausted, struggling beneath
a mass of drakes.
They grasp her climbed her pushing each other aside
careless in their singlemindedness.

Here was nature, red in tooth and claw.

My inner struggle lasted long but I clapped my hands and they scattered.
The drakes looked briefly at
their forsaken prize then
flapped off.
The duck looked at me
recoiled in fear, flapping, rising crazily
into the air
into the side of a passing truck.

I lost any taste for coffee
for taking photos.

People behaving as those drakes
justifying their cruelty.

Those drakes know no better.
We do.

TK Roxborogh
Kelvin Wright said…
Thank you Tania. Nicely done. Very nicely indeed.
TK Roxborogh said…
Just sent you a message on Facebook as I still love this post so much and would like to use it in a teaching text.