The East Hampton Library has a small peaceful atrium, a wonderful place open to the sky, filled with benches, gardens and flowers surrounded on all sides by the library. The atrium doors go from the interior hallways out to it, where people go for quiet contemplation.
Two weeks ago, a duck flew into the atrium. It walked around, peering through the window into the various offices and library stacks. People hoped it would fly out, but it wouldn’t. And then when people went out to shoo it out of there, it hid behind a bush. Everyone figured, well, it got in. When it wants to go, it will git.
But it didn’t. Last week, as a matter of fact, it presented the world with 11 baby ducklings. They came hopping out from behind the bush. She had, when nobody noticed, built a little nest and laid her eggs behind that bush.
Now, out in the cold cruel world, just a hop-skip and flutter over the red tiled roof of the library, there lurks all manner of predators—turtles, fox, snakes, motorists. Mom, if she wanted to, could fly out herself. She flew in. But no, she will stay with her ducklings.
At this point, of course, the library staff has gone out of its way to help. They’ve put a child-size swimming pool in the atrium and filled it with water for the ducklings. Bricks have been stacked to make little stairs they can walk up to it. They’ve flooded some of the gardens. Also, duck food has been put out for them in little pans. Soon a time will come when the baby ducks will waddle over and line up all in a row behind the mama duck and follow her up into the pool to take swimming lessons.
When night falls, the lights go out in the library, leaving the 11 little ducks and their mama out in the silence of the atrium. They tiptoe back to the nest behind the bush to safely arrange themselves for the night.
All these little ducks will know about the world, as they grow up, is this safe little oasis surrounded by books, lamps, easy chairs and bookshelves, and quiet folks who sit and read.
Maybe the books will tell them something. At night, when the little duck family huddles together, the creatures from all these books will come out to play, Captain Ahab’s Great White Whale, Winston Churchill reading passages from his six-volume history of World War II, Albert Einstein working on his formula in the patent office in Austria, Macbeth and the ghost of Banquo, Alice down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. On certain nights, the full moon will appear overhead. Perhaps the kids pumping the pedals of their bicycles with E.T. in one will pass in front of that moon.
The library is open every day. The public is welcome. That’s why they call it the public library. Even if you don’t have a hankering for a book, and you just want to go to see the ducks, you are allowed to come and peer out the windows to see the goings on in the atrium. But you can’t go into it. It scares the ducks.
Across the street from the library is the Town Pond, home to predators, prey and everything else. Swimming in the pond are loons, geese and other ducks, and sometimes swans. Mama might remember this awful thing that happened there, she might have flown over to the atrium because of it. But the babies couldn’t know about about it because it happened a long time ago, in June, before they were born.
In that month, two mute swans appeared in the pond to stake their claim. As they were the first of the season, no other swans would be tolerated unless invited. Soon, a baby swan, a cygnet, joined these swans. There had been no nest, no eggs. Where had he come from? He was now to be seen, a cute little furry grey creature, paddling proudly flanked by the two adults. An investigation revealed that in the evening, the two grown-ups would leave the pond with the cygnet and walked down Ocean Road to Turbell Lane and then into Hook Pond a quarter mile away. Their nest was there. They slept at night at Hook. They spent the day in Town.
And then, the worst happened. One morning, the two grown ups were seen walking along, the space between them exactly the same as when they had the cygnet. But there was no cygnet.
What was this? People speculated that either in Town or in Hook, one of the small snapping turtles who live in those waters took the cygnet from below, first latching onto one of its legs as it swam along, then pulling it down to its doom.
Today, the two swans still appear in Town Pond, seemingly unconcerned, just doing what they do, but childless. Our hearts go out to them.