Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Good Day for a Duck (or, An Introduction to Animal Symbolism)

"Animal symbolism" is an old and complicated concept. It goes by many names ("animal totems," "power animals," "augury," "omens"), and is associated with any number of belief systems and traditions, with countless cultural and subjective spinoffs from each, all anywhere from closely similar to wildly different. So, when folks talk about "animal symbolism" and the like, there's no telling just what is being referred to, since the term covers as many hugely varying ideas as there are people to discuss them.

It is for these reasons that I have, until now, avoided the subject.

But, I can't anymore. These days, I've experienced it so much, and for so long now, that I've, first, determined that there is, beneath all the fluff and superstitions that have become attached to it over the millennia, indeed something to the idea (and with enough certainty to satisfy the relentlessly skeptical part of myself that I retain in order to ensure that I'm not deluding myself). And, second, I've just recently had several incidents that have been coherent and consistent enough to establish both a distinct definition and a pattern of action. Namely, my "animal symbolism" synchronicities will, typically, involve a series of notable, statistically unlikely, or otherwise conspicuous encounters with a given animal (or, alternately, with the underlying archetype of a specific "animal," such as, say, repeatedly seeing images of alligators, or signs reading "gators," or meeting several "gator-like" people, etc).

Case in point: the urban ducks.

This exemplary incident of animal symbolism spanned several days, earlier this month, beginning at a hotel on the outskirts of Charlotte, NC. The hotel was pretty ordinary, a middlebrow Best Western in a big plaza of middlebrow hotels, in a big strip of equally button-down medical offices and shipping warehouses and other industrial architecture, all alongside a bustling seven-lane highway. That is to say, this hotel was, in a word, urban, smack dab in the middle of your stereotypical concrete wasteland -- the last place you'd expect to meet any wildlife, much less a duck.

Yet, it was there that my first symbolic duck crops up.

Though, I didn't just see a duck in the vicinity of the hotel. No: the duck was directly in my path upon leaving the hotel, forcing me to take note lest I trip over the thing. As it were, I'd parked my car around the side of the hotel, in an odd, out-of-the-way spot in order to ease the loading of my stuff; and it was there that I encountered this first duck, waddling casually past my self-made parking space, the only other living thing in the area. So unexpected was the sight, I stopped and did a double-take, and then stopped a second time, looking around for a fountain or pond or an overturned duck-crating truck.

There were no ponds or fountains, though. Not that I saw.

(Here, I should note another, book-type-recurrence synchronicity that occurred in conjunction with this one: less than an hour after encountering this hotel-duck -- my first ever, as it were -- I read randomly in a book of a hotel with a resident duck, also in classical patternistic fashion.)

The next duck comes a few days later.

For this one, I'll summarize: another stray duck in an urban landscape where you'd not expect to see anything more than a roach, much less waterfowl. This time, the encounter occurred at a similarly urban-wasteland convenience store, and our meeting was even more conspicuous: as I was emerging from the store's jangling door after paying for gas, there was a mother duck, waddling down the sidewalk with her chicks, directly in my path. In fact, "directly" is, again, a poor description, for this cluster of ducks was right there, precisely as I emerged, dead center in front of me, once more forcing me to stop and give pause lest I trip over this creature.

Had someone been standing by with a duck-box, trying to time the duck's crossing with my exit from the store, they couldn't have done a better job.

The last duck appeared only the next day, as if to ensure my attention.

It was the same as the last two, and as conspicuous, except this time I was in my car, driving through a parking lot. The lot was big, and totally concrete, and every bit as urbanized and un-duck-friendly as the last two environments -- yet, there was a lone duck, in the midst of it all like the proverbial sore thumb, and waddling directly in the middle of the lane I was driving down. Again, I had to stop in my tracks, now to avoid running over my symbolic animal. There, in view of a busy Starbucks and a strip mall of shops and restaurants, I idled patiently in my car, watching this third duck-that-should-not-be ... be. (And, it bears mentioning: I'd felt Compelled to enter the parking lot from this way, against all reason and logic and convenience, passing up the prior entrance and, instead, pulling into one farther down, which forced me to cruise the length of the lot and, thus, encounter the third duck in my little trifecta.)

What's it all mean? That, unfortunately, is hard to say. However, after three conspicuous, patternistic, highly improbable duck encounters, all within a matter of days ... I find it unlikely that the local duck population has been conspiring against me.

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