The Duck and the Barnacle – A Fable

Once upon a time there was a duck.  He lived in a pond with his brothers and sisters.  He swam all day.  It looked easy on the surface. 

(c) AdobeStockPhoto

(c) AdobeStock Photo

But underneath the water the duck paddled and paddled and paddled.  Looking for food.  Exploring the nearby stream. 

Every so often the duck would go onto the bank and rest.  He would nestle in the soft grass, letting it tickle him as he fell asleep.  And then he would get back in the water and paddle some more.

One day the duck decided to explore farther.  He left his fellow ducks, and headed up the stream.  At first he saw the same trees and plants that surrounded his pond.  And then the landscape began to change.  The trees were shorter, and the grass different.  The ground was sandy.  And the water began to taste like…salt.

He went out to the sand and came to the biggest pond he had ever seen.  But it wasn’t flat and still like his pond.  The water was rising up and coming onto the land with force.

Some of that water swept a shellfish onto the shore.  And on that shell sat a barnacle.  The barnacle was tiny.  And friendly.  He struck up a conversation with the duck.

“I don’t think I’ve seen you here before,” declared the barnacle.

“Nope,” replied the duck.  “I just swam here from a pond far away.  How did you get here?”

“I got a free ride,” said the barnacle.  “I just attach myself to this shell here, and it takes me wherever I want to go.  And the waves do a nice job of carrying us even faster.”

The duck was jealous.  Riding the waves sounded great.  He wished he didn’t have to work so hard to move through the water.  He thought about all the effort it had taken to swim the stream to get to this big pond.  How much it work it was to get food every day.  And how much it would take to get back to his home.  He sat there wishing that he could attach himself to something else and get a free ride wherever he wanted to go.

The duck asked the barnacle if he would teach him to be a barnacle too.  The barnacle said, “Sure.  Come tomorrow at the same time, and I’ll teach you everything I know.”

The next day the duck was there bright and early.  He waited for the barnacle, but the barnacle didn’t come.  He waited for a while, and the barnacle still didn’t come.  He wanted to be a barnacle badly though, so he asked the sea grass, “Do you know how I can become a barnacle?”  But the sea grass only waved.  It didn’t answer the duck.

He asked the same question of some fish who were living in the stream by the edge of the big pond.  No answer there.  The shellfish didn’t answer either.  They were too busy evading capture.

Finally he asked a sea gull.  “Do you know how I can become a barnacle?”  The sea gull looked straight at him.  “Why would you want to do that?!?” he snorted.  “Birds are better than barnacles.  We can go wherever we want.  Barnacles can’t.  They’re stuck going wherever the shell or the tide takes them.  Why do you think the barnacle didn’t come back today?”

At first the duck thought the sea gull was just jealous.  Then he realized the gull was right.  The waves had carried the barnacle somewhere else.  Even though the barnacle had wanted to see him!  The free ride wasn’t totally free; the barnacle couldn’t choose where he went.  The shellfish, tide, and surf did that.

The duck looked at his own situation with new eyes.  His responsibilities were what gave him freedom – the freedom to choose what he did and where.  The very fact that he had made it to this big pond and made friends with a barnacle was all because he could swim.  His actions gave him choices that the barnacle would never have.

Sometimes we get tired of being a duck.  Of swimming all the time.  We wish we could be a barnacle.  Go for a free ride.  But just as with the barnacle, that free ride isn’t really free.   The tide takes us where it wants to go.

So embrace who you are.  Love your “duckness”.  Enjoy the water and even the swimming.  Take a rest in the soft, sweet grass when you need it.  Let it tickle your face.  And then get back in the water and swim.  Where you want.  In true freedom.

Have you ever wished you could live someone else’s life?  When you think about it, what is there about your life now that you’d have to trade?  Share in the comments below.