Thursday, May 11, 2006

Baby Ducks

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Below is an email I just sent to Today 14 baby ducks were found dead in a reservoir near our home. They have been taken to a vet for autopsies, and the reservoir line has been shut down until further notice. Highland Park Reservoir sits in the middle of Highland Park, and while it serves as a water source for Pittsburgh, it also provides a beautiful, quiet, natural place to walk and hike in the middle of a major metropolitan city:

Dear WPXI,
I'm an 8th grade English teacher with Hopewell Area School District. I just saw your story on Thursday night 5/11/06. I feel sick with guilt. On Sunday I was walking the reservoir and saw those precious baby ducks swimming with their mother. They were so small and it lifted my heart so to see such a sweet, simple sign of Spring.

On my second trip around (I was power walking) I also saw two middle-school-age boys throwing rocks at these baby ducks. It made me sick. I wanted to say something to them, and yet I didn't. Fear prevented me. Honestly, I was afraid they would turn their rock throwing on me. That is no excuse of course and I can't stand people who make excuses. I was just too afraid. I was alone and was worried about protecting myself. Now I can't eat, I can't sleep because I feel like maybe if I had had the courage to open my mouth, those ducks would still be alive.

Eventually, the mother swam the babies to the middle where they couldn't be reached by any rocks. I consoled myself with this fact and hoped that someone more courageous, bigger, stronger than me would say something.

I just wanted you to know that maybe they didn't die because of something in the water, but because of a few young bored people who cannot see the simple beauty of new life, but can only see something to destroy, something to use for target practice. It's sickening to me. I'll never forgive myself for not saying anything.

Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help this situation. I plan on joining the Highland Park Association immediately to make sure this sort of thing cannot happen again. I feel very changed by this and don't know that I will ever be able to forgive myself. But you can rest assured that if this happens again, I'll be the first one to speak up. If we let ourselves be ruled by fear, what kind of neighborhood are we creating? You know that commercial where the faucet is running but no one turns it off? They only stand around talking about it, wishing someone could do something. Sunday I was one of those people, but as of today, I will be the one who turns the faucet OFF. Maybe there is some solace in that.

Thank you for listening,

I feel just sick to my stomach about this. What a hypocrite I am. All day long I preach to my students that "Apathy is Lethal" and even have a banner up in my room with this quote. I also have the quotes "Constant. Conscious. Compassion." (Jack Kerouac) and "No Excuses." (Kyle Maynard).

What's worse is I lied to my students. An issue about ignoring the obvious, and not speaking up when you need to, came up in class on Monday. I told my students about the ducks, but this time I lied. I told them I *did* speak up. I spinned it around and created a tale that I had WANTED to happen, rather than the pathetic, lame thing that actually happened. And karma paid me back for that lie. They died.

Now, of course I have no way of knowing what really happened to those precious, young creatures. But dammit, when am I going to learn that the truth will set you free? And that apathy, truly is lethal.

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Sunday, May 07, 2006


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For the longest time, I hated azaleas. They represented the heralding of spring, and while as a young girl I loved spring because it brought Easter and my birthday, it also brought the agony of pollen allergies. Bryan Park and its Azalea Festival usually meant that my sister, dad, and mom would all go and stroll among the flowers, taking pictures, enjoying warm spring air, while I would remain in the car, eyes swollen shut and red with itching and scratching.

I loved the clouds of color, the abundance of it. But because I glimpsed it all from the other side of the car window glass, I felt like these flowers were only put on this earth to torment me. To show me the spring warmth, the rebirth, the colors, the fragrance, the bees buzzing, all the wonderful Easter-like fun that everyone else could have except me. I was left to sniff, scratch, wheeze and suffer while everyone else frolicked. To make a long story short, azaleas, and anything associated with azaleas, the festival, Bryan Park, etc. all represented one big pity party for little ol’ Née Neé.

Bryan Park was a fun place though. Our dad would take my sister and I down to the rocks, the river rocks that were stacked everywhere, water running over them. We’d spend hours, long spring and summer days crawling and climbing over them. It was the closest thing to hiking that we suburbanite girls would get as children. I still remember my dad saying repeatedly, “You fall get wet.” One time I did, and he was right. I spent the rest of the humid day smelling like slimy, decaying moss. I didn’t mine though, it was fun to finally fall in. We’d spent so many summers crawling over rocks and being scared of the water, wondering “What would happen?” so to finally fall in felt more like a relief. Coming to terms with your fear.

Today, I’ve come to terms with my allergies (the fog of Benadryl is something I live with three months of the year) and I love azaleas. One day you’re looking at a wall of green, and miraculously, overnight, it explodes into a wall of color. Whole fireworks of color.

Mature azaleas are just amazing. I remember one house near ours on Forest Hill Ave. in Richmond, on 42nd Street that just exploded with color every spring. Hot pink, red, white. Light pink azaleas are wimpy, they must be strong, bold blooms to really stand out. And if the plants are old, there’s no stopping them.

Just the other day I saw a yellow azalea bush. Wow, this made all those forsythia look like an afterthought. Huge, billowing blooms, with wings spread so wide they looked like they might take off like butterflies. I was mezmerized. On that same walk I passed a house I had passed dozens of times before, but this time the whole front was covered in color. What I had thought were just plain ol’ hedges turned out to be white, red, and hot pink azaleas, screaming for attention. That’s what I love about azaleas. The surprise of them. Who cares that they’re only pretty for a little while? In that little while they live an entire lifetime. The surprise of them is the thing. They don’t hang around forever like geraniums or marigolds. They’re here for a short, vibrant, loud, time. Then they’re gone. Like “Boo!” blink and you might miss them. “Surprise! Azaleas!”

And I admit, they make me miss the Azalea Festival, and Bryan Park, and my dad, and my sis, and even that dank, mossy smell of the rocks. The demons of my childhood are now dear old friends.

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