By: Kyle Jacobson
Navigating the bazaar that is downtown Madison, I find myself at Union Terrace. Large steps lead down to the lake at the edge of a massive concrete patio, on which seemingly scattered picnic tables roam in abundance. Closer to the water is a raised stage for live music, but I will see none as it is clearly day time and the place is quite empty. Off to the west end of the terrace sits a bar, hosting beers that I find somewhat bland and boring. The locals like to pretend they’re getting a taste of something great, a notable feat of self-manipulation.
Further west from the bar floats a dock. It is one hop down from the sidewalk. On the dock wanders a picnic table lost from its herd. A duck sits on the water’s edge. Dark green feathers mask an ever smiling bill which sits atop a fine white and black coat. I sit next to the duck, expecting the creature to fly off, but it doesn’t acknowledge me, nor does it adjust its feet from under itself for a quick getaway. The fowl joins me as I stare off into the lake.
I grow in awe of the vastness inherent to the lake and sky, which I can appreciate due to my magnificent humanhood. Rippling blue hills, white-capped from the sun’s reflection, move in my direction, then away, but really never at all. If I stare to the west I will be able to tell when a gust of wind is coming as surface ripples agitatedly space themselves closer. The light blue of the sky is the inside wall of a shell. It keeps everything inside alive and well. The world outside is uncertain. That is to say, more uncertain than things down here. I think greatly about all the things around me. Though I will never fully understand their greatness, I can begin to. It is an exercise in thought that few things on this planet can accomplish.
Interrupting my placidity comes an inquisitive quacking. I look over to my little green-feathered compatriot and get the sense he is trying to tell me something. I tighten my brow and strain my ears in an effort to understand what I’m being told. When he stops, I have no idea what he has said. I cannot, for the life of me, understand one single quack escaping his boisterous beak. When he is finished he looks up at me, as though he is anticipating some response. I can only stare at him with great confusion. The duck shakes his head and tries again, and again I have no notion of what it is I am being told. “I do not understand you.” Upon hearing this, the duck shrugs and hops playfully into the water. “You want to go for a swim?” The bird then sticks its head into the water in a rather erratic fashion and shakes. I sit stupefied. The duck takes one last look over his shoulder before deciding to forget me and fly away. As it beats its wings against the water I realize what I really know. For all my greatness as a human, for all the vastness and complexities I could somewhat understand, for my abilities to see beyond what everything only seemingly is, I cannot, nor I will I ever, understand the ramblings of a simple duck.