The Groundhog and the Duck: A Parable?
This is a true story that happened while my daughter, Kara, my wife, Mary, and I were bicycling on the Little Miami Scenic Rail Trail from Yellow Springs to Xenia in July.
My wife and I have a white Cannondale Tandem Bicycle with red trim which we bought in 2012. We love the fact that we can ride and talk with ease and we try to ride as often as we can. My daughter, who just moved home from Chicago during the Coronavirus situation, bought a black Specialized hybrid bicycle. Since we can't go on long trips, we are focusing on finding Rail Trails in Ohio. Rail Trails are disused railroad tracks that are paved for bicycle riding and walking. The trails have at most a 4% grade, so even the biggest uphill rides aren't too bad. It also means we aren't dodging cars and trucks all the time.
It was a beautiful sunny day when we left Lima early for our drive to Yellow Springs, where we would get on the rail trail to begin our 20-mile round trip to Xenia. The drive took a little over 90 minutes. Once we arrived in Yellow Springs, we found a train station converted into a restroom facility for cyclists to change and refresh. There is also a bar and restaurant right across the trail from the station, but we stayed clear of it on this trip.
Our ride on the Little Miami Scenic Trail to Xenia took us past Antioch College, and the Glen Helen Nature Preserve over many streams, rivers, and under a covered bridge. There were very few other riders this Tuesday morning, so we had the trail to ourselves.
We arrived at Shawnee Park on the outskirts of Xenia and found a picnic bench in the shade and right next to a big pond. Mary always carries snacks with her, and we were just settling in when Kara gasped and said, “Oh no! A baby groundhog just fell into the pond.” The groundhog had toppled off the short cement wall surrounding the pond and into the water. The unfortunate little animal couldn’t get back out. It would get one foot up on the smooth concrete edge trying to hoist itself up only to slip back into the water. It swam all along the pond, trying to find a foothold on the little wall to pull itself out of the water. But each time it attempted to heave itself out, its footing faltered, and it slipped back into the pond.
All at once, a young female duck flew across the pond squawking at us. It hovered around the groundhog quacking encouragement and then flew over to us as if calling for help. Unfortunately for the groundhog, this was the neatest park I had ever been to. There wasn’t a limb, a stick, or a branch that the little fellow could use to climb out. Kara wanted to call 911 or some emergency park ranger number for help. It was very distressing watching this little groundhog swim back and forth in front of us, trying to get out only to slip back into the water. All the while, the female duck was squawking and flying around and trying to figure out how it could help or get us to help.
Finally, the little groundhog stopped right in front of where we were sitting and put one of its paws up on the wall's rough concrete surface. There was a hush as Mary, Kara, me, and the duck watched, holding our breath and our squawk. The ground hog's hold held, and it pulled itself up onto the sidewalk and out of the water.
At that point, the duck flew back to its little flock across the pond, and the groundhog looked at us and sat exhausted, wet, and safe. We all breathed a sigh of relief when he moved under the shade of our picnic bench.
What drama we watched! But what surprised us was the duck who seemed so protective of this fellow member of the animal kingdom. He was not part of her flock, her genus, or her species. She had feathers. He had hair. She had webbed feet, and he had paws. She lived in the water, and he lived in the ground. Yet, at that moment, all of their differences vanished as she did what she could to raise the alarm at his distress.
It was quite a lesson of acceptance and care, especially during these challenging times.