Five minutes into my lunch-time run on the Poudre trail, following the snaking stream of the Cache La Poudre river through Fort Collins, I stopped to stretch at my usual spot by the bench and railing looking over the river.
I leaned over the railing and looked down to the water to see if the bike with the bent front wheel was still laying there on the thinning ice in the same spot it had been a few days earlier.
The bike was gone, but it had been replaced by a pair of geese and a pair of ducks, apparently out for a double date. They had selected what seemed an odd place for their strange little party, but maybe it just seemed that way because I’m not of the right species.
Perhaps it was the perfect spot for the entertainment they were seeking in order to impress their dates. I’m sure it couldn’t have been very expensive. In any case, it was nice to see winged friends of different races crossing stereotypical boundaries to spend time together.
I turned away for a moment to give some attention to another muscle group and when I turned back, a minute later, the party was breaking up. The ducks had packed up and were strolling to the other side of the river across the ice.
You don’t see ducks walking very often, really – mostly they swim or fly which are far more efficient forms of transportation – but these ducks were in no particular hurry and efficiency was not a part of the plan for their early spring rendezvous.
These two showed no shame about displaying their orange, webbed feet for the sake of an afternoon stroll.
They kept a little distance between them as they walked, but it was clear they were a couple. The male was all dressed up for the occasion – maybe a little overdressed. On his head, he wore a dark green mask, a white choker necklace around his neck, and bright purple bracelets around the tips of his sharply creased and finely groomed wings.
The female preferred a more modest outfit, apparently not nursing the need to draw attention to herself, but she was definitely cute, and a little self-conscious, in her muted earth tones.
About halfway across the river, they came to a point where the ice was too thin to support their weight, but too dense to allow them to swim. They didn’t seem to discuss the dilemma, but they obviously knew each other well enough to proceed without words.
As a gentleman would, the male took action first to show off his skills and impress the lady. He was floating, but had to lift his feet up out of the water, one at a time, and push down on the ice to blaze a trail to open water.
They took a sharp right turn to calm waters, and as you would suspect, by the time the male reached freedom, he was hungry, and had forgotten that his date might need help. She struggled along behind him, too proud to use the trail he had blazed, and made her own way, stopping to rest for a few seconds at a time.
Meanwhile, he played aloof (or he forgot about her) and began diving for whatever ducks find interesting below the surface of a stale, shallow, mostly frozen river.
It wasn’t really diving though, because only his head and chest were submerged. The pointy feathers on his rear end were jutting heavenward and those weird, webbed feet dangled and kicked at the air just above the surface of the water.
Girlfriend eventually made it out of the ice, without even a hint of recognition from boyfriend, but she didn’t seem to mind. They must have been in the advanced stages of their early-spring romance.
She swam up to him and they floated there together for a second, exchanging some meaningful look but no words. Then, they dove in tandem, like feathered, synchronized swimmers. As if on cue, they both submerged their upper halves.
All I could see were two feathered butts, and their dangling, orange, webbed feet.
I watched their loosely-choreographed maneuvers a moment longer and laughed out loud, then turned and hit the start button on my watch and went on my way, thoroughly amused and comforted by the lack of elegance found among courting ducks, and the sense of order in the world they displayed for my benefit.
There is order in this world. Things work even without my help and it’s nice to have a reminder of that once in a while.