April 30, 2016

The Duck Pond

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On the corner of NW 95th and 6th NW in Seattle is a duck pond. I’ve known about it since 1987 when I bought my first house in the Greenwood area of Seattle, not too far from where I live now. Back in the 80s, three of my piano students –known by the child whose lesson came after them as The Three–rode their bikes past the pond on their way to lessons. In the spring the day always came when The Three trooped into my house, dropped their jackets and music on the floor, and announced, “There are baby ducks!” Later in the evening, I’d make a pilgrimage to the pond to see the ducklings.

The Three consisted of two sisters, Alix and Robin, and their friend, Jocelyn. Jocelyn is now 38 years old and has a baby boy. I have known her since she was two years old. When I taught music at the Perkins School, Jocelyn was in the Pinkers, the two year olds and then graduated to the Orange Group when she turned three.

She was an intense child. She took the singing of silly pre-school songs seriously. When we made our fingers and noses be a stringed instrument and sang “Vio,vio,viola,” she made sure she did it correctly. But she enjoyed herself intensely, too. That was so interesting to see in such a small child.

Every afternoon Jocelyn’s mother fetched her daughter. She arrived in what I can only describe as A Determination. She came through the door onto the playground like a force of nature and then abruptly stopped, rocking back slightly in her Birkenstocks and looked for her child. This mode of bodily conveyance has become familiar to me because Jocelyn’s mother is now my dear friend, Nina–rhymes with Dinah. But that was years in the future. I still try to not mix Parents with my relationships with students. At that stage in my life, I wanted nothing to do with anyone’s parent full stop.

When I went into teaching private music lessons, Jocelyn was the only student I solicited. She was in grade school by then but I had never forgotten her. Nina started her in lessons with me and we stayed together for ten years until Jocelyn graduated from high school. She did her senior project on Piano from the Romantic period and played a recital she had put together herself. Home from her first year of college, Jocelyn and I did a summer of voice lessons.

I’ve followed Jocelyn’s career as an actor. I went with Nina to see all the plays in which Jocelyn participated at Franklin High School and to all the summers of Shakespeare in Seattle. My first visit to New York City was made in order to see Jocelyn’s senior performance when she graduated from New York University School of Drama. I’ve seen her in a few independent films and in one exciting part in The Middle, which I made Nina play 15 times, rewinding it over and over to see Jocelyn’s part and then to see her name in the credits.

Jocelyn witnessed me singing “Lasciatemi morire!” (Let me die!) in my room at the Waldorf Astoria at the beginning a long trip through upstate New York and a crossing on the Queen Mary II to England. I had sold my mother’s house and was feeling flush. Singing “Let Me Die” at the Waldorf Astoria was my idea of a funny thing to do.

I sang at Jocelyn and Abe’s wedding. I flew home from my extended trip just in time to get over the jet lag and get my voice warmed up. And—here’s my favorite part—I got to sing a classical piece! True, I did it with guitar accompaniment because we were outdoors in the Woodland Park Rose Garden, but I sang Handel’s “Alma Mia” as well as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Love Changes Everything.” I was so pleased that two of my favorite songs also appealed to Jocelyn.

Jocelyn and Abe now live in Los Angeles. In addition to her acting jobs, and being a mom, Jocelyn tutors students in math in preparation for their SATs. And she has started a business, Home Place Beef, with the tenant and caretaker of the family ranch in Montana. You can order beef from grass fed cattle here:

Now instead of a singing with a Pinker with her fingers in her nose, I watch videos of the exceptional antics of baby Hugo. Of course there’s never been as wonderful a baby as Hugo and everyone knows it. Still I limit Nina to showing me only one video per week and no more than five photos in any one day.

These memories come back to me because it’s April and there are ducklings at the duck pond. My daily constitutional is currently routed past the pond. I stand at the fence and talk to the ducks. There’s mama and papa and the eight ducklings. When I first started greeting them, the mama was protective of her brood and herded them to the other side of the pond. (Query: Do ducks herd and brood?) Yesterday she paraded them out of the drain pipe where they had apparently been playing when I came to the fence.

One day they were all in a pile under the mama and remained in place when she stood up: a little mat of down with the odd beak or eye showing. The papa climbed up the bank and picked at the ducklings for no reason that I could see except it caused all of them to get up and move en masse two feet away where they rearranged their beaks and eyes and matted up again.

There was some agitation the other morning that seemed connected to the presence of two extra male ducks. I always think of the male ducks that cluster around in a group as The Uncles. They are like the uncles at Christmas who sit in the front room and observe the goings-on but do nothing to help. One of the males at the pond had a dark green, almost black, velvety head. He seemed a little menacing, not like anyone’s uncle. I called him the Black Prince. The other was an everyday green mallard who seemed to not quite know what to do with himself. I called him Uncle Vanya because I have been reading Chekov.

This morning I took my camera because I wanted to take a picture of the ducklings before they got much bigger. There was only Uncle Vanya, preening.

“What have you done with the ducklings?” I asked.

He looked at me contemptuously and swanned (Query: do ducks swan?) to the far end of the pond.

The duck pond is empty now except for Uncle Vanya. When there are babies, it always reminds me of The Three, especially The One, Jocelyn, the beautiful little girl with the intense intelligence and sensitivity. I would never want to be 40 again but I do miss a time when kids rode their bicycles to piano lessons and ducklings were an event. Tomorrow is May Day. It’s early yet. There’s still time for more ducklings.

The Duck Pond

The Duck Pond

Uncle Vanya

Uncle Vanya

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