I haven’t seen my sister in two years—that is, until this Sunday, when we got together for a beach-side picnic in Maine. She and my brother-in-law had finally been able to venture east (delayed a year due to Covid) to visit their eldest daughter and her husband. So Al and I and our eldest daughter drove up to see them for the afternoon. The weather cooperated, the food was delicious, and it was great to visit again, in person.
Despite all that has elapsed in the past two years, however, it also felt as if we were just catching up, like we always have. There is something very odd about how time collapses in our post-vaccination transition. For me, at least, there are no crashing cymbals or pyrotechnics when I get together again with people I’ve missed. It’s simply as if we are picking up where we left off—a good thing, but surprising, all the same.
We’ve all changed, of course, one way or another, in surviving a once-in-a-century (I hope) global pandemic. For some, the experience has been gut-wrenching, an utter up-ending of home, work, and all they hold dear. I and my loved ones have been most fortunate, staying well, maintaining income, feeling safe overall as we’ve learned important lessons about patience and persistence. We’ve taken advantage of robust means of keeping in touch that mitigate long separations. All of this contributes, I suppose, to the surprising ordinariness of our Sunday reunion.
My sister and I took a walk along the beach, settling on a rocky outcropping to watch several broods of ducks riding the waves. This was actually the most surprising aspect of our visit—each pair of mature ducks (I’m guessing, from my field guide, American black ducks) was followed by at least a dozen ducklings, paddling along in a row. There must have been 50 or 60 ducklings, all together, learning to traverse in choppy surf stirred by a stiff off-shore breeze.
As we watched, one brood came ashore on the rocks, peeping and flapping to shake off the sea, following their parents’ example to fluff their feathers and waddle about. They were utterly adorable.
“What do you think they’re saying to each other?” I asked my sister.
“I’m hungry!” she proposed. A good guess.
I wondered how such tiny, vulnerable creatures would survive in such rough waters. What if they were swamped by a wave? What if they were swept into one of the jutting rocks? And yet, to them, this was just a completely normal afternoon, on a sunny, windy day, on the coast of Maine, learning to swim.
We, too, have, learned to ride the waves of this pandemic year. Reuniting after months and months spent Zooming and masking and fretting about an unknown, unseen virus that could level a death blow without warning, after miracle vaccinations and boredom and relief that the worst really does seem to be behind us, at last—I can think of no better ending, and beginning, than savoring the humbling wonderment of dozens of ducklings, finding their way in the world.