Tuesday Afternoon In The Park

This afternoon Nick and I did one of our favourite things – we went down to Victoria Park and fed the ducks. This is a park next to the University with a lovely lake and a huge colony of ducks, moorhen and the occasional goose and swan. Many, many people visit every day. The ducks are extremely well fed and very sociable.

Nick is sure that this particular duck remembers him and comes up to greet him each time we visit the park. It is true that there is always one duck who approaches us first. He also likes to be fed by hand.

As Nick was feeding the ducks a little boy joined us, aged about three. We gave him some bread and showed him how to break it up and sprinkle it. He was a dear little boy and kept saying “Billy loves ducks. Billy loves ducks.” His mother was nineteen years old and was studying for her Higher School Certificate because she dropped out of school when she was pregnant. She was finding it difficult to study as her son didn’t sleep well, so she rarely had consistent periods of time to herself. She lived alone in a one bedroom flat on the main road. Most of her neighbours had parties every night of the week which lasted until all hours. She came to the park every day because it offered her solace. ‘A little bit of earth in the midst of the city’ was how she described it.

Billy grew very excited when he saw Nick feeding the duck. ‘You’re bwave,’ he said over and over. Just before he and his mother left I ran over to the shop across the road that had one of those booths where you can print out your digital photos and printed all the photos of the ducks out for Billy. His mother left with tears in her eyes.

I watched her go, her thin shoulderblades sticking through her T-shirt, trying to respond with animation to Billy’s chattering. How hard it must be to be 19 and alone, with a three-year old child. Yet she didn’t complain. She conducted herself with such dignity I was humbled.

These two ducks followed us right around the lake. One of them is the original duck who approached us when we arrived, the duck Nick swears knows him.

‘She’s a beauty, isn’t she?’ A man named Malcolm came and sat with us, carrying five loaves of French bread and a six pack of beer. He was referring to the goose. ‘She a feisty one is old Lucy. Watch out, cause she nips.’

Malcolm comes to the park every afternoon with his beer and his bread to feed the ducks. He regards them as his family. He will sometimes sit and watch them and talk to them for three or four hours, going home as twilight falls to an evening of sketching what he has seen. He lives in singleman’s quarters across the road with a shared kitchen and bathroom. His fellow residents call him the Bird Man.

‘You can learn a lot from birds,’ he says. ‘Like how to care for others. The birds, they all stick together, the mothers don’t abandon their young, no one is left in the lurch. They swim together, they eat together, they sleep together. It’s a community effort. If humans were more like that we wouldn’t have the problems we have.’

Malcolm loves the park. It is an essential part of his day. It made me realise how important green open spaces are in urban environments. We work. We live in little boxes. We come out into the open air to breathe and talk and remember that we’re alive.

In under an hour I had two meaningful conversations with perfect strangers. I felt youthful, carefree as I stood in the sun laughing at the ducks waddling and splashing. The park gave us respite from the strains of city life, offering us a momentary haven, and a sudden surge of hope rising like voices in song.

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21 thoughts on “Tuesday Afternoon In The Park

  1. I believe it was industrialist Titus Salt who said, in the 19th Century that everybody, no matter how humble, should live within walking distance of a park, or at least, a green space. How right he was!

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  2. You are so sweet printing the pictures for little Billy!

    I live in the south suburbs of Chicago and have corn fields within a 2 minute drive from my house…I guess sometimes it’s easy to take the ‘green’ for granted

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  3. TRAVELRAT – what a wise man. We just need a little grass beneath our feet from time to time, don’t we?

    LINDA – I couldn’t resist. He loved the ducks so. I would love to see photos of those cornfields if you ever get the chance. Maybe you could blog about it(please, please.) BTW, how’s your little pup?

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  4. What a feel-good post and wonderful photos to accompany your lyrical text Selma! Sounds like you and your hubby had a wonderful day. It’s great to strike up a conversation with strangers and then find common ground, isn’t it?

    Just a word about the bread and the birds. Apparently (just recently found this out) it’s not a good idea to be feeding them bread (at least in the case of geese) can cause health problems such as: infections,swelling up inside them and bloating.I had been unknowingly been feeding bread to birds in parks for years but after reading this posted warning in a park, no more. Not to dampen spirits, thought I should mention though. Birdseed perhaps?

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  5. >>Birdseed perhaps?<<

    I once read somewhere that someone said the bread should be well stale before it’s fed to the ducks … and an acceptable alternative was to collect slugs from your garden!

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  6. I am just starting to use a camera and learning how to upload (download?) pictures, etc., so it might be awhile before you see corn fields. Little Calvin is doing great and I’ll have some pics on tomorrow’s post…and yes, I did take the pictures, uhm get them on my laptop, and was shown how to crop, resize and all that good stuff.

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  7. I love ducks and parks too. There’s a number of wonderful ones in the area where I grew up and I often miss them. Your point about either being at work or at home, in our boxes, is well taken. I’m not a big outdoors type, but I feel a void if enough time goes by without a trip to feed the ducks. Fortunately I have good reason to make this a regular part of life – my kids are 7 and 9. Perfect duck feeding ages.

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  8. You really are quite amazing Selma, That touch of kindness is probably something the young mum will remember for a while.

    My Mum is a duck fiend. I just showed her this post and she has gone all green with jealousy. She was all “Where is that park? Let’s go at the weekend” until I stopped her with the 24 hour flight to get there.

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  9. I think green urban areas are so important. One of the most important things I get from running, is that sense of being outside. If the scenery is good it’s really inspirational.

    Kids and the birds… (Good of you to give the photos to the mom, she’s got a hard road ahead of her.)

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  10. GERALDINE – a park ranger told me it was OK if the bread was about 2 days old but I am definitely going to research it a bit more because I would hate to cause any problems for the birds. Thanks for alerting me to this. Oh and it is a great thing to find that common ground moment!

    TRAVELRAT – I can’t do the slugs. I used to live in this shared house when I was a student that had a damp problem with lots of slugs that came into the house at night. Some of them were huge. I stood on one with bare feet one night and I still shudder at the thought. I don’t mind snails, but slugs -uuuuuggghhhh.

    CRAFTY GREEN – it is a really nice experience when people come together in open spaces. I have made some really good friends in parks, much to my surprise.

    LINDA – I think it’s upload. Don’t worry, when I started blogging I experienced those kind of difficulties too, but you’ll be surprised how quickly it all comes together. There are still a few things I get stumped on but fellow bloggers are always really willing to help. It’s great. Glad Calvin’s OK. He is a cutie.

    RWHACKMAN – 7 and 9 is the perfect age for duck feeding, although my son still likes it and he is 12. I’m so glad you get out and about when you can. I find it does me the world of good.

    MELEAH – I don’t know how she does it. I was struck by how much she loved that little boy. It was really touching!

    BEC – I agree, it is a long way to go to feed some ducks. Ha ha ha. But I know what you mean, I’ve seen photos of places in blogs and have thought: ‘I want to go there’ only to realise it’s in America or the UK. The power of the net, eh?

    NAT – I love walking for the same reason. There is a really nice walk around Sydney Harbour that is quite picturesque. I always feel really good when I’ve done it. I know – she’s got a hard road ahead of her. Some people really do have it tough.

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  11. Is that the park you were avoiding for a while? Glad you could go back if it is the same one. I finally went for a walk alone through ours and did a wander around the block. It was lovely. I met a very friendly dog; no meaningful conversations with strangers though.

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  12. What a wonderful post. I love having experiences like that. Our parks aren’t quite critter friendly (except squirrels) and now they’re thinking they need more buildings and less of that filthy green stuff growing all over.

    Oh, crud. I feel a rant coming on. Better go vent somewhere safe.

    Thanks for the great post, Selma.

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  13. DAOINE – Yay. I’m so glad you went into that park. The park in this post wasn’t the one I had been avoiding (can I just say what a phenomenal memory you have!)I have managed to make it back into that park too and found it wasn’t as painful as expected. Suddenly, I feel blessed for all the green space I am surrounded by. Who says city living is all concrete and asphalt?

    KAREN – you can vent here any time you like. I am all for it. There is nothing worse than developers who cut down all the trees. ‘Off with their heads’, I say!

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  14. Your beautiful soul shines out of every post you write Selma. It doesn’t surprise me that two complete strangers talked to you in the park, I’m guessing you just have that warm kind of aura around you.

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  15. GYPSY – the funny thing about the ‘warm aura’ is I’m always being asked for directions, which for people who know me, is a point of hilarity because I am guaranteed to get lost everywhere I go. I fear I have sent many people on a wild goose chase with my vague directions.

    KATE – and they made mine. And the ducks were soooo cute!

    DAOINE – 😀 😀

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  16. did you know ducks actually have a great memory? I remember reading from peta
    http://www.peta.org
    that sheep can remember up to 100 faces(fellow-sheep, human, and otherwise) in a single year, and I believe ducks are almost as sharp!
    I’m with your husband; the duck remembers him!

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  17. LISA – I’d believe that, actually. I think most of our animal friends are much more intelligent than we give them credit for. Thanks for the link!

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