Wendell was a duck like any other ordinary duck living among the ordinary reeds in an ordinary river. There was a large stone boulder to west that protected him from the cold winter winds and a large weeping willow tree to the east that provided him with comfortable shade on hot summer days.
Life was good and he was happy.
As time went on, however, Wendell started to become anxious. He had everything he needed, yet he felt like he was missing something. He became curious. Day after day he would peer around the corner of the large boulder and look down the river. He wondered what was around the bend in the river beyond where he could see. He had never left his home. He never needed to.
But he wanted to.
His curiosity grew so strong that he just had to know! Wendell thought he could ask some of his friends about the bend in the river and what they believed was there.
“Frog,” he asked. “What lies beyond the bend in the river where we cannot see?”
Frog answered, “I’ve heard there is a great waterfall.”
That seemed strange to Wendell. If there was a great waterfall around the bend surely he would be able to hear it even from here. He listened for a moment.
Perhaps grasshopper knew something about it.
“Oh grasshopper,” said Wendell. “Do you know what lies beyond the bend in the river?”
Grasshopper replied, “Why would you ask such a question? We do not need to concern ourselves with what is beyond the bend in the river!”
This made Wendell feel sad. He couldn’t really help but wonder what was beyond the bend in the river. He couldn’t just ignore his questions. Finally, he decided to ask the wise old owl who frequently slept during the day in the weeping willow near his nest.
“Owl?” He called out.
“A-hem,” he said again clearing his throat.
“Owl? I know this is your sleeping time, but I have a question that just cannot wait.”
Owl opened one of his eyes and peeked out from the willow branches, “What is it Wendell?”
Owl loved when Wendell asked questions. He always told Wendell that wisdom had more to do with asking good questions than having answers. So he wasn’t too bothered when Wendell woke him up to ask a question. As long as it was a really good one.
“We’ll I’ve been wondering what is beyond the bend in the river. Can you tell me? Can you see from up there?”
Owl looked down at Wendell and replied, “Yes, I do know what is beyond the bend in the river.”
“Oh Owl! Can you tell me about it? What is it like?” Exclaimed Wendell.
Owl hesitated, “I think what you really want is to go on the journey for yourself. Even if I described it to you in great detail, would you be satisfied?”
“Well,” Wendell paused and thought for a moment, ”No I suppose not.”
“So go. You should go.”
“Go? You mean I can just go?”
Owl laughed, “Why of course! Who’s stopping you?”
Wendell looked around and replied, “Well, no one. I guess I am the only one stopping me.”
Owl winked at Wendell and disappeared back into the willow branches to continue sleeping. Wendell realized that no one’s answers were going to satisfy him and no one could take the journey for him. So he scattered his nest into the water and set off slowly down the river.
He passed by frog who warned, “Be careful! It is dangerous!”
He passed by grasshopper who shouted, “You should just stay here!”
Their voices made him question his journey down to the river bend but he pressed on.
Eventually their voices trailed off and all was quiet and peaceful as he silently glided through the water. He felt like he should be getting close, but the bend continually seemed out of reach. He looked back but could no longer see boulder or the weeping willow. He had left home but had not yet arrived anywhere.
And this felt strange.
He saw a Great Blue Heron standing along the bank of the river. He had never seen such a magnificent creature before. Surely he must know something about the bend in the river and what is beyond it.
“Hello!” He called out. “My name is Wendell and left my home this morning to discover what is beyond the bend in the river; but I’ve been swimming for hours and the bend still seems to be the same distance away.”
The Great Blue Heron laughed a kind laugh. “Ah, young duck. You don’t know do you?”
“Know what?” He replied.
“You are beyond the bend. At least, you are beyond the bend that you saw from your home. The bend you see over there is a different bend. And beyond that bend is another. And another beyond it.”
“You mean there are many bends?”
The Great Blue Heron laughed again. “Well, you could say there are many bends or you could say that there is just one bend that keeps moving depending on where you are on your journey.”
“So this is beyond the bend?” Said Wendell looking around in wonder.
It looked very similar to the home that he had left. He realized that there wasn’t just one boulder or the one weeping willow. There were many. He also saw other frogs and other grasshoppers who looked much like his friends.
“Everything looks the same—but different,” Wendell commented to the Great Blue Heron.
“I suppose they are. There is a sameness to everything. But most things are also unique.”
“What makes something unique?”
“Good question,” said the Great Blue Heron. “I believe it is the stories that they tell.”
There were new creatures too that he had never seen. He spent the next few days approaching many of them: otters, turtles, birds, snakes, and any animal that would talk to him. He asked them what it was like to live in the great mystery beyond the bend in the river. They didn’t seem to think it was anything special, but Wendell thought it was magical!
He would swim underneath fallen logs, explore little tributaries that flowed into the river, climb upon large boulders, and stare curiously at the lily-pads and flowers that mysteriously came up from the river bed below. He loved every moment of his journey. The new sights, the new creatures, the new stories, and the exploration of something new.
However, there came a point when he started to feel lonely again. As much as he loved the journey and discovery; he longed for a place to call home again. He wanted to feel settled. He wanted to build a nest of his own again. He wanted a community of friends to live among.
So he started to look for a new place to call home. He found a nice little cove in shallow water that seemed nice. He started to collect some sticks and reeds to build himself a cozy place to sit but he suddenly felt a shiver go down his spine and he sensed something watching him. He looked over his shoulder to and to his horror saw a snarling fox slowly approaching him. He took off as fast as he could just barely missing the gnashing teeth of the foxed who splashed into the water after him. His heart was racing as he swam back into the deep water where the fox couldn’t reach him. That place wouldn’t do at all.
He swam along a bit more timidly.
Just ahead, spread across the entire river, was a large pile of sticks. There were small little openings among the sticks where he tried to tuck himself away into for shelter and warmth. It was strange to him that a pile of sticks would be in the middle of the river, but he was anxious to rest so it would have to do. He collected some leaves and bits of dried grass and settled in.
“Hey! Get off of our house!” He heard someone yell from beneath him.
“I’m sorry, who’s house am I on? And who is speaking? I don’t see anyone!”
A large, buck-toothed beaver popped his head out of one of the holes in the pile of sticks.
“It is me speaking and it is my house that you are sitting on!”
“Oh, I’m sorry beaver. I didn’t know this was your house, or that it was a house at all for that matter. I’ll be on my way.”
“Scat! Scamper! Be gone!” Called out another beaver from a different hole in the pile of sticks.
Wendell was so startled that he climbed right over the beavers’ house to the other side and swam away in fright. He was starting to think that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Everyone else seemed to have their place and it felt like he was the only one without a place. He thought about turning back but wasn’t sure the beavers would let him through. And what about that fox? Who knows where he’d be hiding.
How could something that started of with such excitement and wonder lead him to a place of loneliness and confusion? It was getting dark and he had no safe place to find shelter. He decided to just slowly drift in the deep waters until morning and then he would figure out what to do next.
He stayed awake late into the night. He looked above to the moon and stars and looked down at their reflections illuminating the water around him. It was as though the night sky was both above and below him.
He was somewhere in the in-between.
Then, he thought he heard a familiar hoot come from a tree up above him.
“Owl? Is that you?”
“Owl? Are you there?”
“Oh owl,” he whispered, “I don’t know if you’re here or not but what do I do now? I fear I’ve made a mistake. The journey hasn’t turned out to be what I thought it would be.”
Even though he couldn’t see his friend, he felt that owl was still with him somehow. Even though he couldn’t hear him, owl still seemed to speak.
He remembered owl’s encouragement to go and take the journey; so that is what he would continue doing. He pressed on though he did not know where he was going. The only thing he could do was trust that the river would take him where he needed to go. He put one webbed foot in front of the other and paddled on through the night.
The morning light shone through a misty fog that was lifting up off of the river. A new day had come and brought with it a new fervor for life. Wendell, though extremely tired, felt happy and full of gratitude.
The darkness of the previous leg of the journey was behind him and he felt confident that today would be the day he’d find a new home and start his new life. He swam along soaking up the warmth of the sun. The shadows were long and the colors around him were rich and vibrant.
As he chased down yet another bend in the river he saw a comfortable nook that called out to him. It was one of the most beautiful places he had seen on his journey. It seemed well protected from the cold winds and the hot summer sun. It looked uninhabited and seemed like a good place to call home.
It seemed perfect for him.
Yes, indeed it was perfect.
He was exhausted but he found the energy to gather up some leaves and dried reeds to put together a cozy nest that he could settle down and rest in. As Wendell drifted off to sleep he thought about the incredible journey he had been on. With tired, drowsy eyes he took one last look around at his new home.
He felt like an extraordinary duck living among the most extraordinary reeds in the most extraordinary river.
There was a large stone boulder to west that protected him from the cold winter winds and a large weeping willow tree to the east that provided him with comfortable shade on hot summer days.
Life was good and he was happy.
Owl looked down at him and smiled. He knew something very interesting that Wendell did not know. Owl knew that they actually lived on a lake, not a river! There just happened to be a large island in the middle of the lake that made it feel like a river—especially to a small duck. Wendell had merely gone around in a giant circle. He thought that he had left behind all he had to go on a journey of discovery, but the journey merely allowed him to rediscover what had been there all along.
Wendell is a name that means: to travel, to proceed on one’s way.
Photo by Lance Baker