Thoughts in flight

When Cathy Simpson came to Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, Maine, to go to school, she brought stories about Matinicus Island she and her family had lived on, and told some to me:

"No one lives way out there on Matinicus but my mom and dad, my brother and I and one aunt," Cathy (who liked to be called "O.J.") said, "and when the storms came our little house would shake and flutter in gushes, and it was as if we were almost flying nose close with what storms mean --and giant -- I mean giant! -- lobsters we could eat all the time, and my dad kept making the long hauls into the mainland to sell what lobsters he had caught, and that was before we had radar on our little boat, and I remember once we were all coming back from shopping to Matinicus in a giant storm, and Dad couldn't see an inch in front of him through the fog, and we couldn't find where to land, and every so often out of the spray and mist would pop a gray massive cliff next to our boat, and us kids and Mom hung on, until finally Dad said, "Well, what do you know?" -- and there was the place we had for coming to shore to.

"Why, then," O.J. said smiling, "I always had gulls around my ears, a yard full of puffins, split and chase kind of weather, and all that ever-changing sky floating all around us like we all do.

"And even today sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night, and I still think I'm out there on Matinicus waiting for the day to come, or running in the wind, or building a driftwood tree house with my brother we called "Lobster's Hide-O-Way."

"And you know," O.J. smiled, "I think we all need something like Matinicus just to stay together."

You are sitting in a classroom, and the doors are closed behind you -- and far in your background you hear a bluebird singing. You think it is funny, so you open one of the doors and look around. You discover you are inside that bluebird surrounded by beautiful blue and white feathers, little imaginary lungs drawn on a canvas, almost weightless bones. But the bird is not here: it has flown away.

You laugh and laugh. This is amazing, you say to yourself, simply amazing. Then you discover the secret: if you open enough doors you will find the bird.

Once Dave, Ann, and I were driving up Boylston Street in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, and Ann looked out the window and said, "Oh, my heavens," and jumped out of the car.

She then stuck up her hand, stopping all traffic, and very carefully picked up a newly born small duck that had hurt its wings. Ann took it to the car and said in a Southern accent, "Honey, your new name is Roadrunner."

That day Roadrunner's wing was mended, and I had a new roommate: that little duck. Ann said to me, "Because you have the best facilities, I'm letting you baby-sit Roadrunner for me." I said, "Thank you."

And Roadrunner became famous: I was one of the few people ever to live with a little duck in a Boston apartment. People came from miles around to visit him. Paul, just returning from Bucksport, Maine, once said, "Has Roadrunner taught you how to fly yet?"

Roadrunner liked to hide in one of the large rooms I was living in on Norway Street at the time, and when I would give a certain little whistle, Roadrunner would come waddling fast to greet me.

Roadrunner was known for his Southern hospitality (like Ann) and would sit on the top of my shoe, listening as I read Henry David Thoreau's Journalm to him. And often, when Roadrunner and I sat in the bathtub together, Roadrunner would consider it his duty to chase the bubbles around. He once burst seven bubbles in a row without a miss, and holds this world record for ducks.

After a couple of months, Ann said to Roadrunner, "Honey, it is only wisdom you should return to your other friends now." So we took him to the Boston Common and introduced him to every duck there. Roadrunner liked them so well he decided to live there with them. For hours I would listen to him tell all the other ducks his experiences: "Quack, quack. "

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