Being about as swift as a herd of turtles, it was nearly one o’clock by the time we arrived at the Arboretum. My girlfriend, her young daughter, and I strolled the paths until we found a small wood bench with a view of the pond. Several wood ducks – the ones that look like somebody painted them – were swimming about, sharing the waters with a couple of Canadian geese. Ashore, peahens ambled around the bench pecking at little nothings while mother and daughter walked to the water’s edge and I sat quietly.
The tram passed by the pond and its riders dutifully tossed bread bits at the ducks and geese, but it seemed an automatic gesture and they passed by without savoring the peacefulness of the scene or enjoying the personalities of its inhabitants. The passers-by didn’t notice how the male wood duck deferred to his female companions, allowing them the first choice of tasty treats before snapping up some chewy chunks for himself.
The riders thought that this was their habitat and that the animals and scenery were there to entertain them, not the other way around. Truth is that this is their world, their home, and if you listen closely you can hear them laughing at us – “those silly people,” the peahens whisper to one another while the Canadian geese honk their ridicule more loudly. But children understand, and are happy to inform you, pointing out the house that belongs to the ducks and the tunnel that belongs to the water.
I like to bask in the sun like the turtle on the rock watching the baby ducklings splash and play a few feet away. The air is filled with the cacophony of duck and birdcalls, then there’s a sudden moment of silence when all you can hear is the dribbling of water on the rocks and the wind whispering through the bare tree branches mostly still nude from the winter. But there is green all around – the grass, the bushes and the succulent ground covers with their smattering of colorful blooms.
Of course what may seem peaceful to me is not necessarily so to them. We notice the two male wood ducks who are clearly quarreling over a girl duck, and we watch two geese cross the grass with tails a-swishing to chase away a peacock who appears to be bothering no one. He retreats, dragging his plumage behind him, and the geese turn then to stare at us. The child is busy digging an indentation in the dirt and filling it with blades of grass. It’s a nest for the geese, but they are unimpressed and unappreciative of the maternal efforts of a three-year-old. They waddle away.
Ultimately, we too head for home, but not without a small detour through the forest of yellow and green bamboo where we search for lions or tigers or bears. “They must be hiding,” I suggest when no creatures appear. “No silly. There aren’t any tigers,” she informs me. “It’s just pretend.”