Lessons from a Sitting Duck

lessons learned from our nesting duck

For three weeks this early spring we watched a mallard duck sit on her nest under a bush outside our front door. A pair of ducks has come the last several springs to this same spot. I don’t know if it is the same pair, but the same thing happens every year – the local raccoons discover the nest one night and have a feast on the eggs.

It’s not a pretty sight in the morning to come out and see the egg shells scattered around the front yard. And I can feel pretty upset about this whole annual event. I want to keep the ducks from nesting here. I want to protect them from the rascally raccoons. I imagine building a raccoon-proof fence around the nest. (I know raccoon behavior well enough to know that would be futile!) When I saw that the raccoons didn’t get two of the eggs the first morning I thought about bringing them into the house and putting them into the oven to hatch. (When I passed this by my husband, the biologist that he is, looked at me askance and I was reminded that I’d probably be delaying the inevitable or needing to figure out how to have two ducklings follow me around during my work day.)

This year the mallard pair even brought a wood duck who sat in front of the nest most of the day doing what appeared to be watching and guarding the premises for unwanted invaders. It didn’t work. My human brain, used to solving problems, thought there had to be a better way.

But here’s the kicker. Two days later, the ducks were back looking to inhabit the same nest. “What are you thinking?!?” my survival brain squawked. Then I paused and saw that these little creatures were just getting on with their life as their instincts guided them. And so I looked at my thinking, my perceptions, and decided that maybe there are some lessons I’m being reminded of here.

I wanted to interfere with Nature’s way of being.
Lesson: Be careful and aware of my actions. There is a difference between interference and intervention – meddling to control something or supportive involvement to influence positive change.

I thought I knew better.
Lesson: Imposing my thoughts on Nature is a risky business. Better to be patient and observant and see how to partner in the flow of things.

I caught myself up in thinking about doing something so that I would not feel discomfort.
Lesson: Avoiding discomfort is not always the best of motivations. It can cause putting attention on something I have no control over.

I took a judgmental view on the flow of natural instinct to move on, to continue engaging life as it is, and respond to life as it shows up.
Lesson: Critical judgment blinds me to the bigger picture of life, i.e., the impermanence of all things.

And I got myself stuck in the perception that the natural world lives around me.
Lesson: I live within the Natural World. I am a Being of Nature, not separate and more powerful, but able to be conscious in choosing partnership in the flow of life.

Every day as I pass the site of the empty nest, I nod to these springtime teachers all around me. I’m grateful for the reminders of how to live in right relationship to life as it is.

About the author

Suzanne Kilkus

Suzanne Kilkus is a Soto Zen meditation practitioner and teacher and has practiced as a therapist and counselor for over three decades. She is dedicated to assisting people in expanding their capacity for giving and receiving love, and for recognizing and expressing their basic goodness in everyday life. Her path to live with wholehearted compassion and care is an invitation to everyone. She is a teacher with Open Door Zen Community in Madison, WI.