The National Gallery of Art has an outdoor sculpture garden that is beautiful this time of year. Amid the lush greenery, with trees full of active and noisy birds, are unusual and engaging modern sculptures positioned thoughtfully about the grounds.
But, for me, the focus of the sculpture garden is the large pool of water with eight active fountains that rise and fall to three different heights on a set schedule to a kind of unheard musical score. Surrounding this pool are cement benches encouraging visitors to take a breather.
Many locals, tourists, and day workers sit there to read, eat lunch, meditate or people watch. While birds fly in and out for a drink or bath, excitement rises when a duck appears.
Now there are many other places in the metro area where you can go to see a whole lot of waterfowl, but we who visit to the sculpture garden get excited to see just one duck.
On one particular day, there was a mama duck gliding on the water with six small baby ducks following her.
People were delighted!
The water glistened, the weather was perfect, and there was this little show in front of us all.
I watched the people who watched the ducks almost as much as I watched the duck and her offspring!
I sat back on one of the cement benches enjoying the scene. But then…
"There are only four babies! Where are the others?" Someone exclaimed.
I looked up and sure enough, the mama duck now only had four ducklings following her, although she sort of paused and was looking steadfastly in one direction.
"Look! Two of the babies fell into this edge area and they can't get out!"
"What should we do, lift them out?"
"Maybe the mother will reject them if we touch them!"
The mother duck began quacking in the direction of those unfortunate two babies. I stood up and walked over to get a better view although it wasn't easy because everyone had the same idea.
One duckling could almost make it out of the trap and kept trying, but the other just flailed around randomly. The mother couldn't get any closer – probably because of the number of humans hovering over her babies.
"I think we should all back away and see if she helps them," I said.
But people didn't move. In fact, more gathered.
"Let's call the security guard and see what he says!" And a woman ran off to bring one of the guards over.
I decided to leave right then. I'm not sure why I didn't stay to get the conclusion to the story but it was clear to me that the guard must have seen this kind of thing before, many times in fact, and so maybe with his help, the ducklings could swim again as six, and not four. But surely eventually the tide would push a few unfortunate baby ducks again into the drop-off edge of the pond.
The story might never end.
So I left.
But I returned two days later and saw an adult male and an adult female duck swimming. No sign of any babies.
Was this even the same mama duck from the day before? Whether or not it was, where did those babies go? Surely they couldn't fly on their own yet.
But the crowd of people sitting around the pond was at peace, oblivious to the drama of two days prior. Some read their books, some ate, some just watched other people coming and going. And the reliable, strictly programmed fountains released water at various heights every few minutes.
All was normal and calm.