There can be some unintended side effects of living in climates with heavy snow. I learned about many of these climatic idiosyncrasies during the 30 years I spent in upstate New York. To set the background for this story, it is important to know that my little house in Buffalo was built on a double lot. The side yard was simply the absence of a house on the other side of my driveway; it had no drainage or landscaping. Just grass, and in the winter, snow. In fact, the first year that I lived in that house I realized that the side yard actually became a pond during the massive melting of snow that came with the spring thaw. I am not exaggerating.
I learned about the springtime pond’s emergence when I went outside one morning and there was a duck swimming in the melted snow water pooling on my yard. The first day, I chuckled and thought how funny it was that the duck was confused. However, the duck continued to come back day after day as my water soaked yard continued to provide a convenient, urban location for water fowl. The duck attracted some friends, and pretty soon, it seemed that duck romance was in the air as each morning two specific ducks would greet me when I walked out the back door. I would say good morning, and they would quack at me. I eventually named them Ernest and Francine just because those names seemed to fit. “Good Morning, Ernest and Francine”. quack, quack became a welcome morning routine as I tossed some bread their way. This went on for weeks until my “pond” began to shrink. Spring moved on, and the ducks did as well. I didn’t think much of it until the seasons changed again.
Winter came, snow came, and eventually spring emerged, as did my lawn pond. The first spring thaw day, I stepped outside and heard a familiar “quack, quack” and saw two very familiar ducks on my newly re-emerged pond. I decided I was probably making things up, and this was just some other duck pair passing through. But they swam across my lawn, waddled over to me and continued to “quack quack” until I said “good morning, Ernest and Francine.” After that, they contentedly waddled off to swim in the pond.
That spring, Ernest and Francine continued their daily greeting and, a few weeks later, Francine spent several days behind my garage and emerged with a little string of ducklings. They stayed in the yard until my pond dried up, with our daily exchange of quacks, occasional food, and good-mornings.
Ernest and Francine came back every year I lived in that house. They were my harbingers of spring and my comic delight to start the day. They also gave me an odd sense of home during a time of general upheaval in my life. We gave each other something just by being present and attentive. They built a home in an accidental pond, because nature adapts to accommodate surroundings. Sometimes, nature adapts better than we do.
When I think of Ernest and Francine, I smile. I also consider the lesson I learned from within this small point of light during those winter-becoming-spring days: we come back to the places where we are noticed, and welcomed, and called by name. I ponder what this story has to offer, and I have to ask myself some questions. Are there people I pass every day that I don’t recognize or don’t call by name? Are there people who take up residence in physical spaces in my community (like parks, benches, and street corners) who are attempting to find some sense of home in their world that has no stability? Do I notice, welcome, and call by name those whose paths cross my own? What might our communities be like if we took time to notice, to recognize, and to welcome the diversity of people we encounter day by day?
Thank you, Ernest and Francine, for brightening the spring times of my past and offering a reminder for a better way to live and build community in the present.