Weekend movies: a DUCKumentary

Don’t waste your time this weekend going to a blockbuster movie that is, in effect, one long chase scene. Instead, take an hour and watch, on a big screen if you can, this terrific PBS documentary on the ducks of the world, called “An Original DUCKumentary” (their capitalization).

While the video concentrates on the life cycle of the amazing and beautiful wood duck (Aix sponsa), it covers many of the world’s diverse species in the duck clan, including Arctic ducks who dive to the ocean floor and pick off mussels, swallowing them whole and grinding them up in their gizzards. There are the amazing torrent ducks, who live in fast-rushing whitewater—a habitat that seems far too violent for ducks. And of course there’s their diverse and amusing mating rituals. You’ll learn, as I have through personal experience, that ducks are fascinating creatures and, despite their reputation as comical birds, are wonderfully adapted to their habitat. After all, what other bird is simultaneously a fast boat, a submarine, and an airplane?

Watch it if you have any interest in birds; you won’t be sorry.


  1. Posted September 9, 2018 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    This wonderful video prompts me to expand on the ways that we can know things about the natural world—something I’ve been challenged to do on more than one thread.

    As a poet, most of what I know about anything comes from writing poetry, so I’m naturally inclined to think that one can react to nature in roughly the same ways one can react to art. Mainly, you can experience it without analyzing it. You can analyze it without experiencing it. Or you can both experience and analyze it, though not simultaneously. (Theoretically, you could neither experience or analyze it, but observation alone assumes at least a modicum of experience and/or analysis.) Both ways are fallible and allow for correction based on further observation, experience, or, in the case of the analytical approach, testing.

    The main difference between these two approaches to knowledge about nature is that analyzing requires detachment and objectivity while experiencing requires participation and empathy. Jerry’s interaction with and knowledge about his ducks is a good example of someone who is capable of doing both.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted September 9, 2018 at 7:32 pm | Permalink


      “…you can experience it without analysing it. You can analyse it without experiencing it. Or you can both experience and analyse it, though not simultaneously…”

      Your argument depends on premises that aren’t true – you are oversimplifying to the point of being wrong.

      The developed, adult human brain doesn’t have an experiential mode & a separate analytical mode. Perhaps in the womb & for a short time as a baby we absorb input as pure experience, but that does not persist as an option. Our developing brains can’t help but make associative patterns of the input – that’s what analysis is. Nearly all input & nearly all analysis is unconscious, but it is there at all times riding along with us e.g. if I walk along a street my unconscious brain is always awareof [& processing for usefulness – analysis] of the sound of my shoes, the echoes of buildings, the positions of my limbs & hundreds of other inputs from ears, skin, muscles, lungs, heart etc. – there is no escaping analysis.

      I can shine the light of my conscious awareness on some subset of all the data streaming in & perhaps I’ll note in an internal language that it’s very ‘echoey’ which lines up with the fact that the street is narrow with buildings to left & right. What’s happening here is I’m experiencing the world & using facts about the world both at once. The very action of walking requires a huge database of knowledge I’ve absorbed over the years about how to operate my walking function & 99% of that knowledge isn’t in front of my thoughts – it’s below thought, but it’s still analysis.

      When you write a stream of consciousness poem you cannot help but pull the next word from associations with words you’ve just written or thought about – and those associations are unique to you – developed over years of living in the world. To escape these chains Burroughs popularised the old technique of cut-ups.

      Now we can discuss how you define “to analyse” compared with “to experience” & how you propose to cleave them – nobody ever has! Read Aldous Huxley to understand this.

      • rickflick
        Posted September 9, 2018 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

        Sounds reasonable. I just wonder if Mirandaga wasn’t speaking of a somewhat different definition of experience vs analytical, i.e. feeling and impression vs scientific reductionism.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted September 9, 2018 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

          Yes, I expect so. The only definitions we have so far are these [using my wording interpretation of what miradndaga wrote]:

          two approaches to knowledge about nature

          [1] Knowledge about nature from an analytical perspective requires detachment and objectivity

          [2] Knowledge about nature from an experiential perspective requires participation and empathy

          BUT If we look at “empathy” we run into a problem because it means “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another” – how does this translate into knowledge about nature if we are seeking knowledge in the realms of inanimate phenomena, say a shooting star or a frost pattern on the window? And what is “participation”? with respect to shooting stars of frosty glass? Who are we sharing feelings with?

          It looks to me as if the non-analytical approach to nature [[2] above] being set up by mirandaga is merely the process of examining how we feel about such things – the feelings, associations & memories evoked within the observer. I don’t see how that produces new knowledge about nature! It produces new knowledge about the observer’s feelings is all.

          I’m hoping mirandaga can firm up his definitions & supply examples.

          • rickflick
            Posted September 9, 2018 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

            Feeling doesn’t produce new knowledge. It probably sometimes causes us to revisit some knowledge and experience to form a different attitude. Personally, I think poetry, fiction, music, or visual aret are great ways to shuffle the mental deck. Which is often very important for a full life.

            • Michael Fisher
              Posted September 9, 2018 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

              Exactamange Rodders!

            • Posted September 10, 2018 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

              “Personally, I think poetry, fiction, music, or visual aret are great ways to shuffle the mental deck. Which is often very important for a full life.”

              You’re in good company on that score. Toward the end of his life Charles Darwin wrote: “If I had to live my life again I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week. . . The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.”

              • rickflick
                Posted September 11, 2018 at 2:11 am | Permalink

                That quote is a great find.

      • Posted September 10, 2018 at 11:29 am | Permalink

        “Now we can discuss how you define ‘to analyse’ compared with ‘to experience’ & how you propose to cleave them.”

        A good reply, Michael, and I’ll do my best.

        In reacting to a poem, I can scan the poem for its meter, note the rhyme scheme if any, dissect the lines for musical devices such as alliteration or assonance, and generally determine what these and other devices contribute to the overall effect of the poem. This is analysis and, as I say, requires detachment and objectivity.

        To take a fairly straightforward example, I can take the following poem by A. E. Housman apart and analyze how the poem’s structure affects the reader’s breathing patterns and emotional response:  

        When I would muse in boyhood
        The wild green woods among,
        And nurse resolves and fancies
        Because the world was young,
        It was not foes to conquer,
        Nor sweethearts to be kind,
        But it was friends to die for
        That I would seek and find.

        I sought them far and found them,
        The sure, the straight, the brave,
        The hearts I lost my own to,
        The souls I could not save.
        They braced their belts about them,
        They crossed in ships the sea,
        They sought and found six feet of ground,
        And there they died for me.

        The poem is regularly and reassuringly iambic trimeter (three-beat) throughout, with alternate feminine and masculine endings to the lines. But in the next to the last line, where you’d expect a trimeter line with a feminine ending, he throws in a tetrameter line with a masculine ending (and an internal rhyme to boot: “They sought and found six feet of ground”). What the ear is expecting is “they sought and found six feet of;” what it isn’t expecting is the extra stress on “ground.”  It’s sort of like going down stairs and thinking you’re on the last step only to find that there’s another. He keeps you from falling and returns you to the reassuring trimeter in the final line, but by that time you’ve been mildly jarred, and you’re breathing differently than you would have had you not been jarred. And this is exactly what he wants—that you not be able to read that last line–and especially the final “for me”–casually or with full breath control.

        Essentially, what I’m doing here is taking the poem apart to see how it works. But in fact the poem, taken apart, doesn’t work. To make it work you have to experience it, which requires not the detachment and objectivity illustrated above but participation and empathy. (Chances are, you’ve already experienced it, since you wouldn’t be curious about how it works if it hadn’t worked!) You have to place yourself in the speaker’s situation and enter as it were into his body and in some measure become him. There’s no guarantee that the poem will work using participation and empathy—it will work for some readers and not for others. My main point here is that there are two entirely different faculties at work in experience the poem and in analyzing it—a distinction that has traditionally been alluded to as that between “reason” and “imagination.”

        I’m aware, of course, that I’ve made no attempt to show how this relates to our interaction with the natural world, but I had to start somewhere. Chances are if I haven’t made the distinction clear in dealing with art I’m going to have even less success in talking about the parallel distinction in dealing with nature.


  2. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 9, 2018 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    The two movies I know that are literally one long chase scene are the “Terminator” films and Spielberg’s early TV movie “Duel” some (not all) of which are redeemed by extraordinary imagination.

    More recent superhero films have been one long fight scene, and have actually been very dull.

    But I concede that if with regard to entertainment priorities, I have my ducks in a row, I should watch this documentary.

  3. Posted September 9, 2018 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    More of a Daffy or Donald Duck fan but sounds like something I would enjoy, thanks.

  4. rickflick
    Posted September 9, 2018 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    I watched it this afternoon. Great program. Especially since I’m spending more of my retirement life birding. It’s not easy to identify many ducks at a distance so this program gave me lots of clues. The behaviors and life histories add a deeper and more pleasurable window on what I see.

  5. Posted September 9, 2018 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    We have many Torrent Ducks in our reserves. I’ll send you pictures or videos soon. They are wonderful ducks, especially the chicks, which look as though they would be smashed to pieces as they go through the white-water rapids which are their habitat.

    • rickflick
      Posted September 9, 2018 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      I, for one, look forward to your pics!

    • Diane G
      Posted September 10, 2018 at 1:34 am | Permalink

      And I, for another one. 🙂

  6. Hempenstein
    Posted September 10, 2018 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Yrs ago, at my departmental retreat up at the Pymatuning reservoir near Lake Erie, the de facto departmental ornithologist was off on a mini field trip with anyone who wanted to go along (there was a leucistic hawk up there, and it was on one of those trips that I learned the difference between leucism and albinism). A few yrs earlier he had been expounding on the various ducks up there. Finally, Mark, a tech in one of the molecular labs said, “Jeez, they’re just DUCKS!”

    That phrase lived on for years and probably still echoes up there. I kept thinking about Mark while watching this video.

  7. Hempenstein
    Posted September 10, 2018 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    A video on what went into setting the cameras up in/around that Wood Duck nesting tree would be interesting, too.

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