Ducks in a row? Not in this heat.

Long ago, when my grandparents were courting, the weather hereabouts in North Carolina was whispered of as sultry. The word lingers on the tongue, a bygone description of old-fashioned romanticism.

Their ways of cooling off lingered on their tongues as well:

Sipping lemonade made with actual lemons, bits of pulp, sweetened with real sugar.

Sampling hand-churned ice cream.

From the comfort of my overly air-conditioned office, I face the beautiful and the frustrating. My gone-wild-flowered yard. Rabbits (toting lettuce?) eyeing my tomato plants.

And (much against my will) a harsh reality: The summer weather of long ago is the summer weather of now. Breathing sometimes seems a challenge. Thinking clearly is difficult. Concentrating on work is an absurdity.

How I crave that simplicity of the days of Gransy and Papaw.

I needed an image, an inspiration if you will, to re-create that comforting feeling of a simple life. I had neither a mission statement nor a five-year plan in mind. Nothing high-tech or highfalutin.

Papaw would've said, "Time to get your ducks in a row." Papaw could get away with overusing this line which, in his time, hadn't reached cliche status.

Aha! I needed ducks. And the ducks of nearby Shelley Lake would be perfect.

These creatures, I optimistically visualized, would be awaiting my visit. Under the respected leadership of the Chief Duck, they would line up neatly according to size, ready to glide peacefully through the glistening water, cooling themselves under the branches and shadows of the trees and shrubs encircling the lake's edges.

And, of course, doing it all while positioned in a row.

I arrived at the Shelley Lake bridge nearby my Raleigh home. The old wooden bridge is renowned as a ducky observation place. My hope was for a meeting of writer and quacker mind-sets. The ducks quacked incessantly, so excited were they by my seeking their wisdom.

I tossed Cheerios. They competed for each "o" as if they'd never before been offered a breakfast cereal named after a Londonesque farewell.

The destiny of duck-person bonding ended when the person ran out of Cheerios. Their duck heads bobbed feverishly for the last few circles of food. They quacked each other out of the way, until the competition stopped and the water's surface smoothed.

I waited for them to form rows, to glide across the lake as the sunset began, to inspire me with their simple, focused beauty, a gentle farewell thanking me for my largess. It never happened.

Oh, they paddled around in giant Cheerio-shaped circles. They waddled up on shore, quacking excitement, annoyance, and disappointment. They did everything but trip over their little webbed feet.

I learned that at certain degrees of summer weather, not even the ducks can keep themselves in a row.

If they can't, what in the world makes me think I can?

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