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Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Duck Whisperer

From time to time, strangers approach me for a chat.

I’m not sure why. Perhaps it's because I have a loner spirit, and the other loners pick up on that. Sometimes I reciprocate, sometimes my growing Toronto temperament gets the better of me and I just ignore them.

On this day, I headed down to Sunnyside Beach with the promise of sun and relaxation. The sun entertained me for a few minutes, but hid behind the clouds for good, even before the sweat from riding my bike to the beach had dried.

I glanced around at the wildlife, camera in hand, hoping to capture an interesting moment. Unlike all the expected things to see at a beach, there was a woman with a cowboy hat on, staring into the water. Ducks, geese and seagulls started flocking to her before she even flicked out the first breadcrumb.

They must know her, I thought. The birds all seemed so calm and patient as they approached. At that moment I already had a nickname for her: 'The Duck Whisperer'.

She seemed to run out of bread, and walked away. But she came back to the same spot moments later, staring at the calm winged animals, and then turned her attention to me.

That's when she approached. Almost walking by me, but stopping and turning as if we were already chatting and she had forgotten to tell me something.

She doesn't get down to the water much, she told me. But she loves the ducks. "I just love them."

She spoke fondly of Barrie, but I wasn't sure if she was from there. She’s in Toronto with the hopes of landing a job playing music at a seniors home. She needs just one more reference.

She was big into music when she was younger. In fact, she knew Mick Jagger. No, she dated him. No… they were engaged.

"I talked him into staying in music," said Nancy. She had shared her name by this point. "He didn't want to stay in music."

She drank a lot back then. She doesn't anymore, or so she says. She gets stage fright. Maybe the seniors offer a less judgmental atmosphere. I get stage fright too, I told her.

It was hard to tell if she was homeless. I didn't ask, it wasn't that important. She was just a person talking to me. I peeked into my wallet for anything to offer her, instinctively. I didn't have a single bill.

But she never asked me for money.

She did ask me for something else: she wanted me to take photos of the ducks to send to her. So I did. First I took pictures of the ducks, then her with the ducks, and then just her, smiling.

She has an email address (who doesn't) and she grabbed at my notepad to write it down, but I got to it first. I didn't want her to read what I was already scrawling about my first impression of her before we started talking.

She had a wide hat
and a matching gap 
between her teeth
she called to brown ducks
camouflaged by the overcast sky
on the brown shore

I had also already taken several pictures of her with the ducks and geese. But I didn't mention that.

She asked what I did. I told her I was in magazines. She joked that I’d better not put her picture in the magazine. I told her it was too late. She laughed. She had a sense of humour like anyone else. I told her don't worry, I don't write for Rolling Stone. (Or Mick Jagger).

I felt a drop of rain. She didn't feel it because the brim of her big hat deflected it.

I told her it was nice to meet her. She said the same. And how much she loves the ducks.

And I will send her the pictures. And maybe this post as well.

UPDATE: Aug 30 2012 - Happy to report I got a response from the Duck Whisperer. Here it is, unedited:

"Jeff ,Nancy the lady with the ducks,thanks for seading me the picture from the beach,it really cheared me up.Its Aug 11.2012 and the pictureform the6th ofJuly was agreat picure of a great day for me with the ducks,Ihaven't checked my e-mail in a while and forgot you were sending the pictures to me it made me so happy icoyuld cry,allIcan do is smile in that wonderful caption of a great day."

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