I live in a picturesque village on the shores of Lake Michigan. The wintertime population is no more than a few hundred hardy folks. However, when the ice thaws and the cherry trees bloom, the robins return - along with several thousand summer people. The town comes to bustling life for a few months.
Among the year-round residents are a mallard and his missus. They make their home in a charming millpond about a block off Main Street. During a cold winter, the pond freezes over, but there's always a little bit of open water near the dam. The ducks are able to dive underneath the ice and search for food. On a warm day, they can often be seen sunning themselves on the banks of the pond.
But once a day, about midafternoon, they take a stroll down the road to the coffee shop on the corner. As soon as the proprietor or a customer sees the approaching ducks, he or she grabs a handful of corn from the bowl at the end of the lunch counter and sprinkles it around on the shop's back patio.
Next to the bowl of corn is a ceramic duck with an opening in the top. I think it began life as a planter, but now it's a repository for "The Duck Fund." People drop in spare change now and then. The money is used to buy feed for the ducks.
After the mallards finish their meal, they stroll back home to the pond. Motorists behind them slow to a crawl as the ducks waddle leisurely down the center of the road. No one here would think of honking or driving around them. The ducks have the right of way.
Folks don't mind, however. Nobody is in that much of a hurry, anyway. These are the same people who might stop at the farm house down the road, pick up a peck of apples from the front porch, and leave the payment on the table.
At other times of the year, they stop at the roadside vegetable stand to buy cucumbers, lettuce, squash, or green peppers.
They weigh the produce, calculate the cost from the posted prices, and leave their money in an open metal box (making change, if necessary). On the wall at the back of the stand, there's a sign that says, "Thank you for being honest."
To cover all bases, though, the owner has posted another sign that gently reminds: "God is watching you."
Certainly there are disadvantages to living in such a small village, far from any big city. We don't get to enjoy opera or stage plays; we can't shop in glittering malls. If we want to buy something, we usually have to send away for it. We have little in the way of museums, major art exhibits, or zoos. We don't have dress-up occasions very often.
When we need the plumbing fixed or the furnace repaired, we can't call half-a-dozen contractors for competitive bids. We call the one repairman in the area and hope he has time to stop by.
By the time the cutting edge of technology reaches us, it's so dull it couldn't slice warm butter.
But those who live here do so by choice. Some of us discovered the area while on vacation and rearranged our lives so that we could move here permanently. Others were born here, went away to big cities for a few years, and then came back to stay. Some grew up here and never left. Many residents are retirees. Those who still work have usually taken drastic cuts in income in order to live here.
But for all of us who stayed, migrated, or returned to this beautiful place, the sacrifices are worth it.
We're willing to pay the price to live where the air is crisp and clean, the turquoise water sparkles like a field of rippling jewels, the night skies are dotted with a million stars, people say "Hello" whether or not they've met before, and the honor system works.
And where the ducks have the right of way.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor