Today I walked on the mud-laden path by the river
Touched by the first soft breeze of spring

Rounding the bend, I saw them, the merganser pair, returned
He, so brilliant in contrast to the snowy bank; she, dappled in the sun.

Soon I will see them with their ducklings in tow, lines of downy darlings winding    through the current
And then he will be gone…and it is only she I will watch, marshalling the troops in the months ahead.

I know that every time I see them I, with anxiety, will count them, one by one
Until the inevitable day that one, or three, will be missing, turned to tasty morsels for the snapping turtles who live below.

Does she ever berate herself for being less than the mother she hoped to be?
Regret that one careless foray into enemy territory, or her failure to corral them as tightly as she could, or perhaps that idle gaze at the river’s sparkle that lasted a bit too long, causing her to lose sight of her charge at just the wrong moment?

My children have survived to adulthood but I claim no freedom from regrets.
My moments of lost control, decisions made based on fear of being judged, saying too much, or more often, not enough.

We follow the same Darwinian call, this merganser mother and I.
Yet next year she will find her mate again and start the journey over.

Perhaps next spring I will walk the path with my children
And we will find the mergansers together.