(Friends with my duck book and binoculars)
Ducking reality is not really a problem. We needs only immerse ourselves in an opera to enjoy its obvious affectations. Garb truth. Suspend our disbelief. We also dress ourselves up for special occasions, wear makeup, put on certain manners, and display certain graces. Being natural, really truly natural, is perhaps most realized first thing in the morning, arising from bed, dishevelled, untidy, unmade, unfocused, and needing to pee. But then we attend to the routines of necessary grooming (and perhaps even preening) and we go about the busy-ness of attending to our business. Such is the reality of our day to day. We certainly would not appear at the opera in our gaudiest of pyjamas! Well, unless we had a performance role that called for it.
Unlike ducks, we make meaning from everything. Or do they too? After all, in their ranks it is clear who chases whom, who leads which, and why there is a gathering on the sea-edged grass or at the wet-slip of fresh water run-off from the local pub above the cliff-high rocks. And like us, the ducks make up several species. Some are quite discernibly different from each other. Many are distinct. But most appear as ducks, just ducks. And though I keep a booklet on ducks and have my binoculars at my window overlooking the bay, I cannot say that I can tell you easily quite which duck is which. I've not bothered to learn names. I am content to see them as they are. But even birds fall into categories. There is the lonely heron who frequents the arbutus tree overlooking the bay, and there are the gulls, the crows, the geese, and even a big white swan once visited, and of course there are humming birds and sparrows and... Well, lots of birds. The mall downtown is like that too. Lots of different people from all over, coming and going.
Thing is, ducks are ducks. They appear gregarious and congregate congenially, at large, and all appears well with their world, as difficult as it must be to contend with the variants of nature and the necessity to have sufficient food. But they do not build bridges and erect skyscrapers and drive under the influence nor do they accept credit. They are not ontological. Ornithological maybe, but not ontological. No, they do not make meaning of their quackery. It is mankind that perpetuates the mythology of its species, gives significance to some more than to others, and creates a reality of words and symbols and places and events that goes well beyond that with which ducks can identify. When the harlequin in all its splendour enters the confines of the bay do the drab amongst the birds duck their heads in a collective inadequacy? But certainly, seeing the sudden arrival of the pair of Harlequins, my focus was riveted to their 'otherness'. We are given to observing the bright and the beautiful and the significant and the special and the other and the different. It's in our natures. It's in our genes. It's in our learning it from Ma and Pa. And it's in our hopes that we too may be provoked beyond the usual, the obvious, and the mundane.
Thing is, people are people. We cannot but take on the history of our lot and perpetuate the thoughts and meanings and contentions and even the feelings we've acquired as a result of being brought up on a given shore, by a given colony, by a given parental pair, in a given paradigm. And we accept these realities as though they are biblical. We take on the accent of those we hear as we grow up, we adopt the attitudes of those we watch the most influence us as we mature, and we even make duck-face at the camera because, because, well, everybody else is doing it. Ha! How to be content just to be?
Being entirely individual is a most difficult thing to be. What part of oneself is not a composite of all of history that went before? And standing out is not as easy as one might like, unless one is a harlequin, especially the only male harlequin, there among the multiples of ducks in the bay. But bring on a whole flock of harlequins, such that there be a group of like-mindedness, same-voice, similar-plumage, and equality of habits and practice, and where then the claim to individuality?
(Harlequin pair. Photo by Tim Zurowski)