So, it has been nearly a year and a half since my last post. In the time since I have gotten a job as a campus janitor and met three amazing new friends there, and I have only ended my shift covered in poop once, so overall, it has been a positive experience. I am no longer interning at World Relief, though I tutored ESL at church once a week until last week, when we had our final lessons. Now I have a giant, Somali-shaped hole in my heart that I'm not quite sure how to fill, except with lots of sambusa and possibly a friend's wedding this summer. Our church, which began as a small house church and transitioned into a still-quite-small storefront church with a drop-in center, is now transitioning back into a house church as our pastor and about half our members are moving on to greener pastures.
Also, my microwave blew up last August, the transformer near my bedroom window blew up in October, and my apartment building caught fire in March, which was followed by a surprise return visit from the OCD fairy, who never lets me leave unless every single appliance is turned off and I've triple-checked the stove. The windstorm last week officially qualifies as the "big storm" of 2013, pending no other challengers for the rest of the year.
So what happened to me today that trumped all of this as being blog-worthy?
"D'awww" (photo by russavia)
Had I been just a few minutes later than I was, this would be just another post about some unnecessarily-long bike ride I took somewhere in the Twin Cities, if that. After waiting far too long for the bus to East River Parkway, I decided to take a different bus that ran a few blocks down from where I was but went to the same place. I'd gone about two blocks from there before I had to stop for a mama duck and her impossibly cute, probably day-old chicks, to cross, all of them following her in a nice, neat line, all of them peeping frantically because they were in the middle of a busy road and there were monsters coming at them from all directions.
I pulled over and went "awww" and made all the other sounds that I'm supposed to make because I have ovaries, but the smile faded when I saw that mama duck, in her infinite wisdom, was leading her babies directly for the part of the curb that held a storm drain.
Sure enough, I watched two of the little ducklings drop between the grates and disappear below. And of course, because I saw them, and I was the only person who saw them go down, I was now responsible for them. Somehow, some way, in order for this Sunday to be redeemed as a "good day" that was worth getting out of bed for, I would have to find a way to pull these two ducklings out of the drain, uninjured, and reunite them with their mother. Why didn't I just accept that crap happens, nature is cruel, and go ahead with my afternoon plans?
Listen...have you ever heard a duckling peep? Watch this video. I'm serious! Now imagine those lil' guys abandoned at the bottom of a drain, left to slowly starve to death because I had more important things to do than come to their aid (I didn't, and I knew that, and whatever I had planned wouldn't be fun anymore if I kept thinking about starving ducklings the whole time).
Mama duck, meanwhile, quacked at me angrily for helping her remaining two babies up over the curb so they wouldn't end up the same way, and then waddled off with the survivors without looking back once. A Bible verse came to mind:
"She [the ostrich] lays her eggs on the ground and lets them warm in the sand, unmindful that a foot may crush them, that some wild animal may trample them. She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers; she cares not that her labor was in vain, for God did not endow her with wisdom or give her a share of good sense." (Job 39:14-17)
Birds are dumb--even the Bible says so.
Whatever the case, I soon found myself gathering long sticks, of which there were many due to the recent windstorm, trying to fashion a kind of long-handled scoop that would fit between the grates of the storm drain, which looked to be about four feet deep. I had my Karen bag, a cloth satchel with a long, wide strap so it can be worn over the shoulder. I tied the bag to the end of the stick and lowered it down between the grates, trying to ignore the traffic that was blazing past me only a few feet away, holding the neckline of my shirt between my teeth to keep from flashing said traffic.
The first stick was too short. It didn't even get close to where I could see the two ducklings, huddled together amid the sticks and wet leaves. Even if I was able to reach the bottom, I would need to find a way to hold the bag open so the ducklings could actually stumble in.
I tried a million things. I kept having to tie and re-tie the bag to different sticks, and I never really managed to get the ducklings to go in the bag, though they were more than willing to hide underneath it since they apparently thought it was their mother. Finally, after about an hour, I was about to give up.
I was frustrated by now--angry that people kept driving by without stopping and offering to help (why would they?), angry that I couldn't work up the courage to ask the Korean family doing yard work across the street for a hoe or a rake or something, and constantly worried that some St. Anthony police officer would pull up and see me squatting in the curb there, shirt in teeth, digging in a storm drain with the stick, and ask--"just what the hell do you think you're doing?"--and I would actually have to spit out the shirt and answer the question. I thought about just giving up, but then the waterworks started, and I knew that there was no "walking away." My career choices have always been around ministry or non-profit work. I rescue things. I can do nothing else.
Then, suddenly, it came to me. One final strategy that just might work.
I took some thin, green branches, the kind that are pliable, and wove them into a ring. I used that ring to hold open the mouth of the bag, and tied it in place with the little tassels that are often left dangling there. Then I tied the straps to the end of the stick. Rather than trying to scoop the ducklings, I would leave the bag to lie flat on the ground, guide the duckling into the middle of it, then lift it straight up and around it. I tried this strategy, and after a few false starts...
I caught the first one, and pulled it up through the grate. I could see it in the bag, but it was such a tiny little thing that it seemed to have no weight. I placed the duckling under my bike helmet to keep it from running off, and then went back for its sibling.
This one was more difficult, and I was getting concerned. The duckling wasn't peeping anymore, and seemed to be tottering on its side, as if tired or injured. After some coaxing, I got it in the bag. Relieved, I started to lift it up.
Then the bag slipped off the stick and fell to the bottom of the drain.
Well, I confessed that I cussed a little after that. It was midday, and hot, and I was supposed to get to St. Paul in time for dinner at El Burrito Mercado, with time left over to take the bus home. And I just lost my Karen bag. I took the stick, bent the tip, hooked the shoulder strap, and then began to lift again. And to my utter shock, on the first try I was able to reach down, grab the strap, and lift both it and its precious cargo out of the drain to safety. Duckling #2 went to join its sister or brother, while I celebrated my victory...and realized I hadn't the foggiest notion where Mama Duck or her family had gone.
With the ducks in the bag, I scoured the neighborhood in search of Mama and her brood, but had no luck. They were no doubt hiding under a lilac bush somewhere, and though they would certainly come back this way, seeing as there was a pond nearby, now long would that take? The lady out watering her flowers hadn't seen where Mama went, but she was happy to see the two little drain explorers waddling around in the neighbor's yard, following me wherever I went.
In the end, I left them in a sheltered area in hopes that the mother would find them by their constant peeping. I wasn't going to spend my afternoon looking for her after all the time I'd spent getting the ducklings out. I know, I hate the ambiguous ending too. I had visions of watching the little guys stumble across a yard to join their mother and leaving them happily ever after, but it was what it was, and this was something I could not control.
As for the bike ride, it was...nice. It's been a while, and I don't have the stamina I used to have, and I made a completely pointless detour down into Hidden Valley park only to learn that it was flooded out, but it was relaxing. I never made it to downtown St. Paul; I only made it to 35-E and back around to the Mendota Bridge, Fort Snelling, and Minnehaha Park. I took the light rail home, with a brief detour to Holy Land Deli for some Injera Bread, and overall, it was a good day.
For myself, anyway. For the ducklings, whether they found their family or not, I imagine it kind of sucked.