I was feeding the ducks in the canyon when I witnessed a mating scene most troubling. At first everything seemed peaceful. The duck couple who had recognized from across the pond the crinkling of Saltine wrappers swam around enjoying their crackers, and I stood still enjoying the sun.
But the apparently delicate balance between this drake and hen was soon interrupted by what I’d guess was a more dominant drake, curious about the food. I used to think that these things mated for seasons, at least, if not life, but the introduction of this bold drake changed that idea.
He chased the female around in the water for a while, crowding out the other male. Then all three of them, the two males in pursuit, took to the sky and made a big circle around the canyon. I lost sight of them for a while, and was just about to move on when they came speeding back to the North canyon and coasted into the water on downy tufts of feathers that the hen had lost in the exchange.
It was a whole scene by now, the canyon alive with the sound of ducks. The hen swam helplessly, dragging a drake behind her. Two drakes followed in pursuit of the duo. I thought for a while that she might drowning. Eventually the cluster disappeared behind a log and reemerged individually after the splashing had calmed. I watched a couple of the drakes preen themselves in the water. The hen, looking as always so pretty and innocent, did the same.
Troubled, I continued down the path. I entertained that I was perhaps in no position to judge. And would god really be so cruel as to make duck reproduction as painful as it first appeared to me?
But a while later I read an article in The New Yorker that uses the issue of duck sex to talk about the animal world reflecting the human one, and I found out that god really would be so twisted (I am not trying to make a pun about the particular corkscrew appendage on which the article depends ). Apparently, when a hen meets a drake she likes, the process is considerably smoother. It must have been a fit of springtime giddiness that made me think for a moment that the natural world was just.