On my walks, I pass a place where the Grey Creek briefly swells into a pool. It was once a surprisingly picturesque spot, but since the council removed the ancient shady willows it has lost its character. The exposed grey mud is speckled with shards of coloured plastic, faded whiskey cans and lost lime tennis balls; it bakes in the pitiless sun, releasing the earthy, septic smell that is characteristic of the Grey Creek. The odour is toxic and would not be present if the creek flowed through pristine lands, yet it has always been there and I associate it, almost fondly, with my childhood.
When she first moved into the region, the beautiful white duck Immaculata chose this pool for its beauty. Now, despite the changes, she does not leave. She has come to know the place. Experience has taught her that it is defensible against her enemies. The struggling ecology of the Grey Creek is just rich enough to afford her a staple diet and walkers on the nearby path will sometimes stop to feed her bread.
She is far from being a gregarious creature. I have seen her fight the native black ducks for bread and she is capable of a frightening display of ferocity. I can imagine her defending her chicks in the same way, but a family is something that is denied her. It is unlikely that she will ever find a mate. Yet she is prepared to do everything she can to survive, regardless of the hand that fate has dealt her.
The odds do not lie in her favour. For beginners, she is perfectly white. Foxes, dogs and cats can see her at a distance, even at night, but she seems to have developed a survival strategy that works. Because she is not native to anything outside a farm, she lives under constant threat – just like the willows – of being removed from a habitat reserved for native species. And there is always the chance that a low man will attempt to take her for food. That is why her reticence with people is encouraging.
Despite everything, she is strong, healthy and beautiful. And she wags her tail in a very endearing manner. She does seem a little flustered and stressed, but that is to be expected given her circumstances. I feel a great deal of sadness and respect for Immaculata, defending her tiny cul-de-sac between the motorway and suburbia, forgotten, abandoned by nature, excluded by the plans of humankind.
Happily, over the last week, she seems to have formed an alliance with a pair of chestnut teals and a pair of black ducks, with who she sits with in the shade of the creek bank.