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Totems: Wild Duck

by Cie Simurro, a.k.a. Thunderbird Starwoman


To what colors does your emotional body resonate? Are you iridescent like me, each chiaroscuro effect bringing out another part of you, or are you grounded like my bold, solid coloring? I AM WILD DUCK. My range of emotion is equal to all coloration. Whether you are feeling joyous, agitated, excited, furious, passionate, perplexed, comical, ornery or loving, honor your deepest emotions and learn to nourish yourself. I will bring you comfort and protect you, just as I fiercely protect my ducklings. I will help you swim through emotions that are hard to hold and sometimes hard to face. Treasure this gift of feeling that is glorious and challenging.

I am writing on one of those days when the sky has twice alternated from robin's egg blue with bulbous white clouds, to a fully grey sky with showers. It's like that this summer. New England is practically semi-tropical in its weather patterns. At some point, it rains and/or thunderstorms almost every day. Wild duck's primary element is water. The essence of water carries Spirit and the doorway to Spirit is through the high echelon of the emotions. Does the word emotional carry a connotation of excess for you? Perhaps some embarrassment? I have increasingly observed that a great many people are somewhat ashamed of feeling really deeply for another – human or animal. Sometimes, there seems no energetic space for what is our most sacred gift – the ability to feel emotion deeply.

The triptych of spring, summer and autumn 2009 has been a time of great emotion. All nature's creatures are being affected by global warming. Weather patterns are erratic and more extreme. On a personal level, people are suffering, challenged to integrate spiritual values into daily behavior. The world's economy, especially in America is in great flux. People are looking for comfort and security in new ways. Many are shifting from consumerism to fill their emotional needs, to figuring out what is important to them and their families, spending time with loved ones, growing food and volunteering in their communities. For those whose identity depends on the amount of money in their lives, the roof is caving in. On Black Monday in 1929, men jumped off the ledges of buildings because their "everything" was wrapped up in what they had lost. The Wise Ones say it is not what happens to us in life, but what we believe about what happens to us, that determines our life. I wonder if those who jumped ever thought how much worse off their families were without them. There are worse things than feeling inadequate.

Right from the beginning of spring, on into summer, birds predominated with their songs, their ravenous quest for food, and their energy. Birds make us look up; think of matters of the soul. Wild duck totem in particular helps us transcend. You've probably heard people advise you not to let insults or criticism bother you, but rather "let it roll off, like water off a duck's back." That is because folks with this totem have a good sense of who they are. Jabs from others, and the difficulties inherent in life do not penetrate as negatively. Even if they get knocked over, they seem to right themselves pretty quickly. Ducks are easily imprinted, and follow examples. Once they are imprinted to something, they react automatically to the same stimulus. Are you overly impressionable? Books have been written about "the overly sensitive person" and how to take care of yourself if you feel things very deeply. Therapists often have duck medicine, having been drawn to their vocation by the desire to understand their own feelings and sensitive nature. Do you know where you leave off or another begins? An empathetic person needs to be able to distinguish their emotions from those of others. Empaths feel everyone's emotions, not necessarily recognizing their own. It's especially important for a healer to be able to recognize when this is happening and how to discern and clear foreign energies. Being discerning is not the same as judging. Clairsentients feel through the emotions in their bodies. Outside pain, emotions, events and patterns all register. It is a powerful, difficult gift to have. A trained shaman can help you understand your sensitivity, as well as taking you journeying with duck as a spirit helper.

Wild ducks are migrators. This is a power animal for those who move with the seasons. Ducks know how to do this instinctually and through imprinting. They teach us how to access our inner resources to provide ourselves with food, clothing and shelter. Ducks let the waters of life uphold them. They float easily on currents, instead of struggling for their existence. It is our creative privilege to choose what to bring into our lives. Can you give up the habit of being miserable? Our own happiness must be so important to us that we're willing to let go of fear of the unknown, fear of what others think of us, and expectations of what other people should be doing, or be to us. In his book on totems, Brad Steiger tells a story of Shingebiss the duck, and Kabibonokka, the spirit of the North wind, who was annoyed that the little duck remained cheerful, no matter how icy his blasts of frigid northeast winds. Shingebiss refused to give up his happiness despite the increasing severity of the winter blasts. Finally, in admiration the North wind left him alone, recognizing his Manitou (godness).

Are you a dabbler or a diver? Are you able to dive in to the experiences of your life, or do you sit on your own sidelines? The reason people numb themselves to their emotions is so they don't get hurt. Many of us are afraid of our anger, or having to navigate through stormy emotions (which are inevitable in reaching emotional maturity). Duck will teach you how to dive deep for the pearls of life. People with this totem are a diverse group. There are about ninety species of ducks worldwide; thirty-four in North America, inhabiting both marine and freshwater habitats. Ducks are precocial, that is born with down, though chilling is an issue for at least the first month. Chicks can leave the nest after a day or two, but cannot achieve flight ability for nine weeks. If you are dating a person with wild duck medicine, be sure to bring forward your warmth and caring right from the start. If things cool off, you will probably experience the "big chill" and it will be over fast.

Many Diving ducks have colorful and emotion-packed courtship displays. Men with one of these ducks as his totem, who want to propose are definitely going to get a woman's attention. They are more likely to plan a romantic, sentimental and extravagant marriage proposal than another who pipes up with, "So, ya think it's time to get married?" If you lived in ancient China, practiced Feng Shui, and were in love, perhaps your parents would have given you either a live pair of Mandarin ducks, or an ornamental display of them for the southwest corner of your room. These ducks are an example conducive to love and a harmonious marriage, because Mandarins make an impressive courtship display and then once paired, the union lasts for years. Does anyone love you? Have you ever loved anyone or anything with your whole heart? If you are experiencing this totem's energy, you may be in store for companionship or community. After years without a partner, someone came into my life, who had many of the qualities I was looking for. Everywhere I went I kept seeing ducks - in ponds, on golf courses, marshy areas, and in flight. I listened to music more deeply, wrote deeply from the heart, and cried at TV commercials. I was a beating-heart.

There are no right or wrong feelings; they just are. Very often feelings are ambivalent. We want what we want; we're scared to have it – maybe we didn't really want it at all. We love the joy of being alone to do what we want, whenever we want, but we want to feel special to someone, enjoy connectedness and intimacy – but what if we're rejected! Human emotions run the gamut. We just have to let them be, accepting the reality of "what is" at any given moment. This allows us to step back from our emotions, get untangled if necessary, and even change course. But that can only happen if we allow the truth to be what it is. Then we can ask a tough question like: "Does it really have to be this way?" Are you flexible or do you reinvent the wheel each time?

The courting display of a male Ruddy Duck is quite theatrical. He erects his tail feathers so stiffly, they almost touch the back of his head, before he flares them over his eyes, so they look like little horns – at the same time that he puffs up his neck and breast, drumming on his throat with his bright blue bill. The drumming forces air from his breast feathers so that the water bubbles in front of him.

Talk about the missionary position! The male Common Goldeneye snaps his head back and forth violently, while his mate lies upon the water as though dead. The male Bufflehead a.k.a. Butterball (the female so-named because although chunky, she squeezes into small nest sites) also does the head snapping while standing erect with beating wings to attract his mate. Similar looking, Hooded Mergansers have rounded, fan-shaped crests. The male opens his fully erect topknot during courtship. Both sexes of Common Mergansers have striking red, spike-shaped bills and red feet (red stands for physical vitality and passion). Because they are fish eaters, Mergs have sawtooth bills, and they can usually be found in deeper water, riding high or low (only neck and head showing until they dive).

Diving ducks primarily eat fish, crabs and snails. They must run across the water as they take flight. Canvasbacks and Redheads look similar and hang out together. In winter, Canvasbacks can be abundantly found in the bay by LaGuardia airport in New York City, Chesapeake bay, or wherever else wild lettuce (their preferred food) grows. They are deep divers, going down thirty feet or more for aquatic roots and small invertebrates. You can recognize their elegant profile by the duck version of a Bob Hope ski-slope nose. Once called the "king of ducks" by hunters and epicures, their numbers and that of many ducks have dwindled because of the loss of wetland nesting sites, contamination of plant food sources, over-hunting, introduced predators, oil spills and fishermen who think they are competition salmon, trout, etc. Actually, they eat mostly "refuse" fish and worms that humans do not eat. An added benefit is that they clean up the water. The numbers of Canvasbacks in the Midwest have declined, along with the dried-up potholes they used, left by retreating glaciers of the last ice age. Another handicap they have is that males outnumber females, 7:3. In any given year, three-quarters of the drake population cannot pair.

Dabbling ducks (surface feeders) are waddlers with feet set wider apart and forward. Dabblers can spring into flight without a running start. They eat mostly grasses and vegetation, small aquatic animals and worms. Part of their medicine offers stability and groundedness. Males molt twice. They retain their standard coloring until their eclipse molt in late summer or early fall, when they are flightless for a time during their non-breeding season. At this time, they look more like the females for protective camouflage. Usually, they are brilliantly colored. Iridescence is flashy, but not necessarily solid. Are you looking for the instant attraction or the cherishing that lasts? Duck medicine is very linked to the feminine qualities of comfort and protection. If you are in a stage of life when you are going through a time of high emotion like grief, take a time apart from the world to let yourself grieve appropriately, while your feelings are raw and jagged. Grief unexpressed has a way of seeping into all aspects of life for a long, long time. Trying to return to your normal state too fast, or business as usual can actually prolong grief, because it submerges, and then later, it is harder to get to. Letting grief run its course guarantees you will move forward with your life eventually, just as new breeding plumage eventually returns to the drake, and he will fly again.

The Wood duck is a gorgeous dabbler, especially around the head and colored wing patches called speculums. The adult male has a glossy purple (the color of emotional healing) and green head (healing/heart chakra), with a long, down-swept crest. The drakes have over twenty-one stylized courtship rituals. It's interesting that they spend so much time in water, yet roost high in trees, sometimes in woodpecker holes. The wood duck's stronger, sharper toenails enable it to do this. Wood duck people carry the energy of being tenacious if there is something they want badly. Flightless baby ducklings drop down to the ground soon after hatching to follow their mother to water. If the wood duck has come into your life, you probably like to hang out with friends or join up with them at a regular time and place – like at the local breakfast haunt, or after work. Woodies gather every day on a specific log, preening and napping to conserve energy. This is called "loafing." Hens will "dump nest" or put their eggs in another hen's nest, which she will incubate. This happens especially when nest cavities are scarce. Hooded Merganzers, Goldeneyes, Buffleheads and some Whistling ducks also nest in trees.

The quacking you are used to hearing is probably from a mom Mallard duck calling her young. Women with this totem are conspicuously maternal. They have the fierce, protective love of a mother for her progeny. Female ducks usually raise young by themselves. They build a nest and line it with vegetation. Incubation is about a month, depending on the species. As soon as the young are dry from hatching, they are led to water. In April 1945, a mallard made world-wide news on a river in Milwaukee Wisconsin by nesting atop a piling a few feet away from bridge traffic (87,000 vehicles a day) and a drawbridge. Nothing could get her to leave the nest. Gertie the Great captured the heart of America, both on the mainland and with troops overseas when World War II was at its worst. A war-ravaged world looked for daily news of Gertie. Gertie's eggs were about to hatch at the same time as the V-Day, end of the war celebration. Marching bands and soldiers reaching the bridge, stopped the music and tiptoed across, before starting up again on the far side of the bridge. A guard from the Humane Society was posted to protect her and her hatchlings. The mallard family even ended up in a Gimbel's Department store window for awhile, before moving permanently to a sanctuary. There is always a great deal of emotion, one way or another, around animals and humans. Why did people connect with a wild animal? Why did they so much want her and her ducklings to live and thrive? Why indeed do stories about animals make us cry - and our hearts fill up? The pure heart we once had as a child resonates with the pure nature of wild creatures.

Mallards are the quintessential duck, and are the ancestors of domestic ducks. Despite being hunted by the millions each year, they are the most abundant of ducks. You can find them anywhere there is at least a small pond, whether rural, suburban or city. The male has iridescent green plumage on his head and neck. Both male and female have bright orange legs and feet. Orange is the color of the second chakra, expressing creativity. If this duck is showing up in your life now, is it time to start writing that book, make sketches for that painting, or write down the music that's been playing in your head? Elemental water houses deep pools of creative energy, which we access through our emotions. It's not easy becoming an artist, continuously tapping and developing one's creativity and opening to even deeper realms of the subconscious; however, this is what creates splendid writing, transcendent music and evocative art. Having wild duck as your totem, or calling on duck for creative access will help to stabilize your life around your creative ventures.

The elegant male Northern Pintail is easily identified by the long, thin black feathers that make up his tail. In his eclipse phase, he looks like a darker version of his female. They are not so common anymore because marshes, their preferred nesting areas are consistently being filled in by development. Green-winged Teals have green wing patches. They travel in tight, speedy flocks that can turn together on a dime. Blue-winged Teals migrate over 7,000 miles between northern Canada and southernmost South America, because they hate cold weather more than most ducks.

In winter, Sea ducks often gather in protected coastal areas, forming dense masses known as "rafts." If the Lesser Scaup, known as the Little Bluebill by old-time hunters or the White-Winged Scoter, for example is a duck that is significant for you, you seek security in numbers and emotional solace from others. The Common Eider provides us with comforting, soft down from her breast, used in pillows, comforters, and sleeping bags. The good news is that the down is collected from her nest instead of killing the bird. King Eiders literally fly underwater, propelling themselves downward and then up again to the surface.

An example of getting nourishment in a big way is the Northern Shoveler, which has a spatulate bill twice as wide at the top as the base. It "shovels" the bottom mud, using its bill to strain out its food – snails, water insects and small plants like duckweed. Birds and their environment evolve together. The less common name of duckweed is lemna. Evolution arranged it so that all marsh ducks eat duckweed, which often sticks to them as they swim through masses of it on top of the water. Each bud is an entirely separate plant capable of reproducing on its own, so ducks carry it to new ponds, ensuring the survival of both species. Emergence for any species, physically or spiritually can be an exhausting effort. Black ducks lay about a dozen eggs. When the chick is ready to break out of its shell, it chips a circle of holes around the cap of the egg. Eventually the cap gives way, and the duckling pushes itself out in agonizing increments – first the head, then one wing, and finally the other. Exhausted by its effort, the wet chick has only a few scattered dark hairs on its naked flesh. The miraculous thing is what happens next. As the chick dries, these hairs split open and out of each, a down feather as big as a fingertip fans out. What was bedraggled, turns out to be a fluffy, downy duckling ready to start its new life. This is the miracle of the seed, whether physical or esoteric.

If we are to be emotionally happy, we must turn within for our nourishment. Just as the Yin/Yang symbol has a point of light in the darkness as well as a point of darkness in the light. Joy and sorrow live in each other in this world of polarity.

In The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran writes:

"Joy is greater than sorrow," and others say, "Nay, sorrow is the greater." But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed."

emotion
sometimes feelings are like swimmers
dragging the one to be saved
in a neck holdthe weight of emotions
threatening to drag one down
have you noticed how
intense emotion rises
up the gorge of the neck
just below tears and above
the fullness of the heart?

the price of letting yourself love deeply
is to feel waves of love wash
over you - - exquisite and sad
making sure the transitory nature
of life is not lost on you
bringing the incomprehensible thought
that who and what you adore,
what was close as breath,
as natural as thought
will soon be gone
what passes deeply between two
is not always evident to others
the perfect synchrony
and spilled laughter
are too personal for that
sometimes feelings are flyers
lifted by warmth
like air currents beneath
hawks and turkey vultures
or churned by the wings of ducks
they climb and soar to lofty heights
observing a wide expanse of
patterns and tracks left by those
living closer to the details
of paw print and ediface
sometimes feelings have roots
so strong they fasten us to
the beloved with sense memory
like the slightest touch,
matching gaits or contentment
quiet like the velvet eyes of lovers

Cie Simurro 2009

Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a healer and writer for 35 years. As an interfaith minister, advocate and steward for the natural world, Cie lives and works shamanically, offering healing for animals and humans. For healing in person or by phone, for you or your animal, a reading, spiritual training, to attend Cie's Arts Salon, or purchase her book, Totems for Stewards of the Earth ($22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370), call 413 625-0385 or email: cie@ciesimurro.com  


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