Thursday, July 28, 2005

Of dogs and ducks

I see Fafnir's latest on the duck, and I'm moved to tell you about a duck-related occurrence I witnessed a few years ago.

I was wandering around the banks of the Charles River when I saw a man playing with his dog. He'd throw a ball, and the plump red dog would amble over to it, fetch it, and return it to him. At one point, a mother duck and her ducklings passed by on the river.

The man threw the ball into the river near them, and the dog jumped into the water to retrieve it. "Quack! Quack! Quack!" said the mother duck, and she continued in a forceful rhythm. The dog simply picked up the ball and took it back to the man, taking no interest in the mother duck or her progeny, and the duck stopped quacking as the dog went away.

Then the man threw the ball towards the mother duck again. The dog approached, the duck quacked at him, the dog dutifully fetched the ball, and the mother duck quieted down as the dog left. And again, the man threw the ball at the mother duck, and the scene repeated itself.

What struck me about the whole scene was the general reasonableness of the nonhuman animals -- the mother duck in protecting her offspring, and especially the dog in peacefully retrieving the ball -- compared with the wanton behavior of the human. Looking back, I feel that this whole scene must be an excellent metaphor for something fairly complicated, but I don't know what that something is.

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