Category Archives: ducks

Embrace Our Differences

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Uglyduckling#2 Embrace Our Differences

Don’t judge a Duck by its Early Plumage.

 In this collage I am showing a variety of poultry. I’ve got a large beautiful Swan, two swans flying over head, a gaggle of geese, a turkey, a mother duck, ( she’s in the water behind the swan), ducklings and one large oversized cygnet.  One of the things l love about the word birds is the large range of animals the term embraces. There are birds that are tiny, such as the hummingbird, birds that swim but can’t fly, Penguins, a bird that can run fast, the Ostrich, diving birds, wading birds, small wings, huge winds, no wings at all. It’s all quite interesting and wonderful.

 In my collage mother duck has taken her babies down to the pond to teach them to swim. She is in the water telling them to jump in. When my son was little, maybe 30 months old we were on a small boat dock looking at some ducks. When I turned around my son had stepped off the dock and was underwater. I reach down and pulled him back up onto the dock. He wiped his eyes and smiled. It scared me. It hadn’t scared him. Two things happened without delay. I bought a life vest and he had to wear it any time we were near water. As soon as we got home I searched around for swimming lessons. As it turned out he loved to swim and decided to join a swim team. He became a competitive swimmer and worked for several years as a life guard. He, like the ducklings and the cygnet took to the water immediately.

 This story is about personal transformation and was one of Hans Christian Andersen’s favorites. He considered it his biography. As a child Hans was picked on by the other children. He had a big nose and very large feet. When he grew up it turned out that he had a beautiful singing voice and was talented in the theater. Before he wrote this story he discovered that he was the illegitimate son of the King of Denmark, Prince Christian Frederick. To Hans, the Ugly Duckling is a story about inner beauty and talent but also about secret lineage. He may have been ugly, like the ugly duckling, but like the duckling that turned into a swan, the most beautiful of all, Hans turned out to be a member of the royal family far superior then the local barnyard rabble that had been so verbally and physically abusive not so long ago.

The Ugly Duckling

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Uglyduckling#1The Misplaced Egg

The Ugly Duckling

 The Ugly Duckling is a story about an egg misplaced. Somehow a swan’s egg gets into a duck’s nest. The story doesn’t tell us how that happens. It just begins with the odd egg being a matter of fact.  A barnyard mother duck is sitting on her clutch of eggs waiting for them to hatch. Finally the little ducklings are born, all are doing well. The mother duck is upset because there is still one egg, the largest egg still to hatch. The mother isn’t sure what to do.

 An old duck comes by and takes a look at the egg and declares it is a Turkey egg which she has had experience trying to hatch. She tells the mother duck about her involvement and how it turned out to be a turkey chick and how when it was time to teach the ducklings to swim the turkey chick wouldn’t get in the water. She advises the mother duck to abandon the egg but the mother duck decides to spend the extra days sitting on the egg. When the egg cracks open and out pops the creature inside she is amazed at how ugly it is. It has big feet, grey down plumage, long neck, a large beak and is twice the size of her other babies. This poor thing is pretty unappealing, perhaps it stayed in the egg to long or maybe it is a turkey. She takes her babies down to the pond and they all jump in including her ugly duckling… As it turns out the ugly baby can swim and swim better than the others… She decides it isn’t a baby turkey.

 When she takes her babies to the barnyard all the other animals comment about the “odd” one. Everyone picks on and ridicules the ugly duckling until the ugly one runs away.

 We all have had moments, or periods in our life when we felt like a misplaced egg … an ugly duckling that can’t purr or lay eggs. These are difficult times. We wonder who we are and where we belong. We look for our tribe, our kindred souls. It is a time when we feel alone and unsupported. If we aren’t careful we can start to hate our self or hate the others. We have no role models, no friends and no sense of our worth. Hans Christian Andersen tells of the poor baby duckling’s struggles and wanderings. At one point the baby almost freezes to death.

 In the story the cygnet notices all the different animals, wonders where he might belong. When he sees the mature swans he is impressed at their beauty, skills and graceful nature. As a young one he is not old enough to join them as they migrate to their winter grounds. It isn’t until the baby finds his “people” his fellow swans that he can really see himself. When he looks at his reflection and is amazed at how he has transformed. When the children see him on the pond with the other swans and declare that he is the most beautiful of all he arches his long graceful neck and swims with pride and happiness. Like the ugly duckling all of us need to realize that are uniqueness is what makes us beautiful.

Know Thyself

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The Ugly Duckling_NEW

We seem to be choosing stories about mothers and children lately and The Ugly Duckling is no exception.  However, my first thoughts on reading it again were not about mothers, but about belonging and not belonging.  Re-calling Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ phrase “the mistaken zygote,” I went back to my well-thumbed beloved copy of Women Who Run With the Wolves.

Let me digress a moment here and say this book ought to be every woman’s Bible.  If I were in charge (!) I would make sure every girl gets one as part of a coming-of-age package presented at the celebration of menarche. Of course I ended up re-reading the whole chapter, smiling and crying a bit to see the condition of being female so beautifully understood.  Buy it, steal it, borrow it and refuse to return it!  Get your hands on a copy and keep it close at hand.

Speaking of this story, written by Hans Christian Anderson and published in 1845, Clarissa says:

It is a psychological and spiritual root story.  A root story is one that contains a truth so fundamental to human development that without integration of this fact further progression is shaky, and one cannot entirely prosper psychologically until this point is reached.

That point is all about finding who you really are, accepting who you are, and also finding others like yourself who will affirm, confirm and value who you are. In Clarissa’s words:

The duckling of the story is symbolic of the wild nature, which, when pressed into circumstances of little nurture, instinctively strives to continue no matter what   …

The other important aspect of the story is that when an individual’s particular kind of soulfulness, which is both an instinctual and a spiritual identity, is surrounded by psychic acknowledgment and acceptance, that person feels life and power as never before.  Ascertaining one’s own psychic family brings a person vitality and belongingness.

I loved this story the very first time I read it.  Then, I got to see Danny Kaye play Hans Christian Anderson in the movies!  At age seven, I developed a mad crush on him, learned his songs by heart, and saw every movie of his my parents allowed. I still sing, “Quack! Get out!  Quack! Quack!  Get out!  Quack! Quack! Get out of town!” to myself some days.

My dad was in the army and we moved around so much I was always the new kid in town.  I never fit in at school and I felt like a stranger at home. Hans Christian Anderson could have written this story for me.  I identified completely with the ugly duckling; he sustained and encouraged me.  Having read it, I believed that one day I too could find people like me who would value me.  Looking back on my life, I am still amazed at the power of  stories, which I read as a little girl, to influence and nourish me.  In fact, I dedicated my first volume of poetry Be A Teller Of Tales to:

 Piglet & Pooh,

Ratty, Mole, Alice,

Humpty Dumpty, Br’er Rabbit,

Pinocchio, Mrs. Doasyouwouldbdoneby,

Mrs. Pigglewiggle, Charlotte, Uncle Wriggly,

Mary Poppins, Curdie, Cinderella, the North Wind, the Five Little Peppers, Heidi, Black Beauty and all

the other beloved creatures and characters

without whose leadership, companionship

and instruction I would know

nothing of storytelling

and much less

about life.

The Ugly Duckling gave me a sense of self-worth.  It inspired me to keep looking for my “pack” and gave me the courage to approach them whenever I did find another pack member.  I was very happy to return to the story after all theses years, read it again and find it as edifying and useful as ever.  I still feel heartstruck at the exile of the duckling, proving that old scars never completely fade away.  Perhaps that’s why the tones in this collage are so dark – not something I intended.  All Anderson’s stories are tinged with shadows, even those with happy endings.  I suppose it’s why I love them so. They never prevaricate or pretend. As a child, nothing was more frightening to me than lies. I could always trust Mr. Anderson to truthfully reflected the uneven mixture of pain, grief, joy and happiness I found life to be.

My collage shows the mother duck with both her own duckling and the strange creature she has inadvertently hatched.  The chickens and cat represent barnyard fowl, the ignorant nay-sayers of this world.  I included the cat because it foreshadows the danger the cygnet will meet on his quest.  The swan, is his true nature; the creature he will find at journey’s end.

Iktome and the Ducks

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Iktome and the Ducks_0001_NEW

Hi everyone we got off to a slow start on this final May Trickster story, but then working with this guy is never easy.  Trickster will trick you one way or another whenever he is invoked.  When Michelle and I decided to give a shadow workshop using Coyote as our guide, I spent a long time figuring out how to as call him in safely as possible.  My research uncovered the fact that he is a very good father so when I called in the directions and welcomed him in from the south, I asked him to treat us as his pups with gentle tricks and small lessons.  Which, he did.  It’s very important to honor these powerful spirits and treat them with careful respect because they come both as clown and creator.

Iktome the Spider man belongs mostly to the folk of the plains, particularly the Dakota.  If you’ve read the story, you know that Iktomi the shape-shifter likes to dress like a Dakota in the paint and deerskin leggings and beaded tunic of a brave.  Nevertheless, my collage uses a totem pole from a northwestern tribe – it portrays Raven, our other Trickster, but the bill reminded me of a duckbill and the face beneath the bird seemed to be painted as a spider.  Originally, I planted a big teepee where the totem pole now sits.  I painted it with black encircled eyes, red and yellow stripes and filled the corners with spider webs.  However, while searching my files for duck pictures I came across this other image and regrouped.  I wanted to show that the Earth gives birth to and is home to gods and guides as well as spiders, ravens, rabbits, coyotes and humans.

One of the things Trickster stories teach us is to be flexible and try alternative ways to solve our problems.  The stories don’t necessarily say this directly instead they show us trickery is a never-ending part of life.   Whatever we do, as ducks or Trickster, something will happen to change our circumstances suddenly and unexpectedly whether or not we are minding our own business, being “good”or “bad.”

These teaching stories are difficult to figure out and often carry multiple meanings – they remind me of Buddhist koans.  A koan is a short anecdote, usually recording an encounter between student and teacher.  It poses a question requiring more than intellect to figure out (i.e.  “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”)  The idea is to arouse the student to a state of exaggerated inquiry or “Great Doubt”.  A koan builds up “strong internal pressure (gidan), never stopping knocking from within at the door of [the] mind, demanding to be resolved.”

Trickster stories do the same thing,  Why does the tree catch hold of Iktome?  The ducks are prey animals anyway.  Is it so bad to go in an ecstatic dance?  Does the story warn us about the dangers of using trance without the proper ritual?   Why does Iktomi act so stupid in the presence of the wolves?  His behavior makes no sense, especially when he repeats his “mistake”.  We know that repetition in a story, poem or song points to something important, but I still haven’t figured it out and it won’t “stop knocking.”

Usually the point of a koan is to teach the concept of non-duality.  I think Native American stories also center on the connection of all things and our common existence as parts of Great Spirit.  Perhaps the wolves need feeding for some larger purpose we are not privy too.  Sounds too much like blind faith to me, but what if it’s something about our own wolf nature, which needs feeding?  That rings more true.  At least it’s a starting place…