- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 6, 2005

Long ago, when my grandparents were courting, the summer weather hereabouts in North Carolina was whispered of as sultry. The word lingers on the tongue, a bygone description of old-fashioned romanticism and smoldering passion.

Their ways of cooling off lingered on their tongues as well. Sipping lemonade made with actual lemons, bits of pulp, sweetened with real sugar. Sampling hand-churned, home-recipe ice cream. Indulging in juleps resplendent with garden-grown mint.

From the safety of my over-air-conditioned office, I face the beautiful and the frustrating. My Mother Nature gone-wild-flowered yard. Rabbits (toting lettuce?) eyeing my tomato plants. And much against my will, a harsh reality: The summer weather of long ago is back.

Breathing is a challenge. Thinking clearly is an impossibility. Concentrating on work is an absurdity.

Gransy and Papaw are long gone, and with them a certain simplicity about life. How I crave that simplicity.

I needed an image, an inspiration if you will, to recreate that comforting feeling of a simple life. Neither a mission statement nor a five-year plan in mind. Nothing high-tech or high-falutin’.

Papaw would’ve said, “Time to get your ducks in a row.” Papaw could get away with overusing this line which, in his time, hadn’t reached cliche status.

Aha. I needed ducks. And the ducks of nearby Shelley Lake would be perfect. These creatures, I optimistically visualized, would be awaiting my visit. Under the respected leadership of the Chief Duck, they would line up neatly according to size, ready to peacefully glide through the glistening water. Cooling themselves under the branches and shadows of the trees and shrubs encircling the lake’s edges. And, of course, doing it all while positioned in a row.

I arrived at the Shelley Lake bridge nearby my Raleigh home. The old wooden bridge is renowned as a ducky observation place. My hope was for a meeting of writer and quacker mindsets. The ducks quacked incessantly, so excited by my seeking their wisdom.

I tossed Cheerios. They competed for each “O” as if they had never before been offered a nutritious breakfast cereal named after a Londonesque farewell.

The bonding of duck and person ends, so sadly, when the person runs out of Cheerios. Their duck heads bobbed feverishly for the last few circles of food. They quacked each other out of the way, until the competition stopped and the water’s surface smoothed.

I waited for them to form rows, to glide across the lake as the sunset began, to inspire me with their simple, focused beauty, a gentle farewell thanking me for my largess.

Never happened. In the heat of the moment, my mind flashed to my other duck-appreciating activity, complete with raspberry glaze and wild rice.

Oh, they paddled around in giant Cheerio-shaped circles. They waddled up on shore, quacking excitement, annoyance and disappointment. They did everything but trip over their little webbed feet. I learned that at extreme degrees of summer heat, not even ducks can keep themselves in a row.

If they can’t, what in the world makes me think I can?

J.B. SHELTON

Raleigh, N.C.

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