February 15, 2022

LORENZEN | There’s a Duck in the Road

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Tuesday, Feb. 8 … A day that will live in duckfamy. 

It began as any other February day begins at Cornell — with the frigid Ithacan wind billowing and a sea of students trudging through muddy slush on their way to class. I was one of them. As we plodded along the sidewalk to class, hands shivering whilst scrolling absentmindedly through social media in a sleepy yet content boredom, we had little idea that day would be interrupted by a moment that would arrest us all in sheer fascination and perhaps even amazement. 

Class that afternoon passed uneventfully. If we’d known what was to occur, maybe we would have been unable to focus. Maybe we would have rushed to the scene in eager anticipation. Maybe everything would have been different. But instead, as I packed up my laptop and meandered back toward Collegetown, my mind was mostly blank. 

As I joined the stream of students hurrying down East Avenue, I dialed my mom and raised my phone to my ear, figuring that I had time to say hello as I walked back to my apartment. It was after several minutes of speaking, just as I emerged onto the College Ave bridge, that I uttered the phrase that has, as the kids say, been living rent free in my brain for a week now:

“Uh, Mom, there’s a duck in the middle of the road.”

In the middle of the bridge was a resplendent duck. Black eyes lay enmeshed in dark green feathers. At its neck, these feathers turned white in a thin strip almost resembling a collar, then brown at the duck’s chest and finally gray with just the slightest trace of navy blue on the duck’s tail. The duck (who shall henceforth be known as Duckley) was objectively stunning. And he was, as the kids say, positively vibing in the middle of the road.

A small crowd had formed, observing him from the sidewalk with a mixture of amusement and concern. Duckley — seeming to have a rather shilly-shally opinion on his next destination — occasionally waddled over to the sidewalk, back to the center of the road, and then back to the sidewalk. Suddenly, a car approached just as Duckley returned to the street. Someone stepped out of the crowd and waved for the car to slow down. The car took note of Duckley and dutifully avoided him.

Yet, there were more cars coming — more challenges for Duckley. The crowd was increasingly growing worried for Duckley’s safety at such a narrow, busy stretch of road. I abruptly informed my mother that I had to go — this moment demanded an all-hands-on-deck call to action. How many Cornell students did it take to protect a duck? We were about to find out. The wind howled in our ears. The tension rose in our chests. Duckley’s fate rested in the balance.

The crowd had shifted. Several students had continued along their journeys, unable to interrupt their schedules for Duckley. Reinforcements had arrived. One student astutely noticed that Duckley had a tag on his leg and wondered if perhaps he was part of some experiment. They dialed CU Police and tried to get some help. 

The cars began to speed up. Several of us waved cars down, indicating from a distance that there was a hazard on the road ahead necessitating profound caution — a breathtaking hazard named Duckley. We took turns standing in the middle of the road, protecting Duckley, trying to shoo him towards the sidewalk. Yet Duckley  — being of an obstinate and rambunctious mind — refused to be deterred from zig-zagging between the sidewalk and the street in a continuous loop.

I wondered if I could go to 7-Eleven and buy a loaf of bread. I could then tear the bread into smaller pieces and create a trail for Duckley to follow away from the bridge to a safer area. Yes, feeding ducks bread isn’t healthy, but desperate times called for desperate measures. The student on the phone with Cornell Police seemed to be making a bit of headway, but there was not yet a resolution. What could we do to break the stasis? How could we end this crisis, the likes of which had not been seen at Cornell since its inception?

Yet, all at once, it simply ended. Duckley, fed up with our harassment, spread his wings and flew away in the direction of campus. As he disappeared over the horizon, we were left to mutter remarks indicating that many of us, myself included, hadn’t realized that ducks could actually fly that well, if at all. 

It was as if a spell had worn off. I realized that I was late. I had to be working on something for class, probably. I muttered goodbye to my fellow Duckley supporters and retreated back to my apartment, thoughts of Duckley gnawing at the back of my brain. In the midst of a busy day in a busy week in a busy month in a busy semester in a busy undergraduate career, the saga of Duckley had provided a momentary respite of whimsy and majesty.

Cornell is a serious place for serious minds conducting serious study. Yet there are random, unplanned moments where, if you allow yourself, you can revel in the magic of something entirely unserious, something just wholesome and nice — like a bunch of random people guarding an adorable duck with their lives. As the days remaining in my undergraduate career dwindle in my final semester at Cornell, it’s these completely spontaneous moments that have been the most memorable during my time here. I urge you to find your Duckley, to bond with others as you protect him and to stare at the sky, oddly mesmerized, as he flies away.

Andrew V. Lorenzen is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected] When We’re Sixty Four runs every other Wednesday this semester.