the duck test


There is a saying, “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck…”  you know that one. As I formulate this post, I borrow a bit of what is written, from the wiki definition, just to clarify a few things.

“The duck test is a humorous term for a form of inductive reasoning. The test implies that a person can identify an unknown subject by observing that subject’s habitual characteristics. It is sometimes used to counter abstruse arguments that something is not what it appears to be.”

So wiki gives one idea as to where the quote originated, stating:

“Indiana poet James Whitcomb Riley (1849–1916) may have coined the phrase when he wrote “when I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck.”

Further on down the page I read a quote from an ambassador to Guatemala during the Cold War in 1950, in which he said:

“Suppose you see a bird walking around in a farm yard. This bird has no label that says ‘duck’. But the bird certainly looks like a duck. Also, he goes to the pond and you notice that he swims like a duck. Then he opens his beak and quacks like a duck. Well, by this time you have probably reached the conclusion that the bird is a duck, whether he’s wearing a label or not.”

So one could reach the conclusion, that a duck could very well be a duck if it looks like, acts like or sounds like one…no label necessary, of course, unless you have never seen or heard a duck. I ask you, gentle reader, is this a duck?

Would it be more of a duck with a label? Uh, no, it is what it is, an abstract. What you are looking at is a photo of a tree root which was in the path on which I walked yesterday. I saw the root in more the abstract, as a duck, but because I was certain few would see the same on the first pass, I added a couple of leaves and sticks prior to taking the photo. It looks more  like  a duck now, right? To some extent, sure.

I have an appreciation that the wiki page also included a mention of the Liskov Substitution Principle as a counter-example to the duck test:

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck but it needs batteries, you probably have the wrong abstraction.”

Not sure if I have the right or wrong abstraction, and unfortunately, math is not my forté , but I understand the mutable and immutable can sometimes take a more  discerning focus.  I am quite the visual thinker and because of that, I often read the world through photos and then illustrate what comes to me, as though in a continual stream, one thing adding to the next. The connection is made in a forward step backward step, a cha-cha of sorts, relating to that which was and more to relate to that which is now and further coming. Don’t worry, I can confuse even myself with my explanations, but please, read on…

Because nothing is ever just singly defined, as shown somewhat by the decision to post a filtered photo of the pen mentioned in the previous post, one could, or as was my intent, should have also read the title of my previous post, “it’s read in black and white”, as it’s RED in black and white… a visual pun.  I sometimes must digress in order to go forward; it’s that cha-cha thing.

During the pastor’s sermon yesterday, a man entered at the half-past hour. Since the congregation is quite small a newcomer is easily noticed. The thoughts that go through my mind are rarely kept confined, and I readily make many connections based on that which appears before me. This man, and some of which was said in the morning’s sermon, did not escape the many layers of my little onion (another word for my brain) and the myriad of connections that were made.

The man entered during song worship and after a song or two, then during a song that was song over and over again as people felt the spirit, one of the church members was moved to walk about the church shaking hands with each member, and of course, the newcomer who had come in. It was after he had moved on a bit that I chose a moment to also get up to  shake the hand of the newcomer,  telling him it was good to see him in church.  Little did I know where that would later lead me, but the connection did not really surprise me.

The pastor spoke of many things, but what was important in this particular connection was that he spoke of Peter and of Jesus’ washing of the disciples feet. It is all about the wash. No bible scholar here, I just go by what I hear, read and where it leads me. My mind often wanders…

It lead me to think about the large wash basins I saw in the women’s room at a mosque,  once visited, where those who came in would wash their hands and feet.  The visual in my head also allowed me to remember that large basin in the women’s room at the Sunlite Pool at Coney Island where some would wash their hands, still others would wash their hair. As a child, I remember stepping on the foot pedal to start the sprinklers.

There was no such automated sprinkling/washing system in the day of Jesus. I came back to what the pastor was reading in John 13:

After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?”

Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”

Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!”

Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”

The sermon continued, church let out, and I walked home, thinking no more of the  newcomer, or about much of anything other than that I planned to go home, stay in the rest of the day, and not going back to church  for the evening service. I’m funny that way sometimes. I told my neighbor that I wanted to make preparations for my brother but did not specify anything else.

I spent the afternoon uploading photos from the previous day’s excursion downtown, where I spent a couple of hours, in a block or two, taking photos in a few stores and in a couple of alleys. There were sidewalk sales going on, but I only purchased one thing for a dollar and a quarter. I uploaded the photos to my Madison Uploaded Facebook page, and in between uploads picked up a bit around the house. Suddenly, in the middle of it all, about 3:30, I changed my clothes, grabbed my camera and headed off to John Paul Park, where there was a fundraiser for the park in progress. I had no previous plan to attend, because it was Sunday, but felt compelled to do so knowing I was giving up time to put my house in order before my brother’s visit. I went anyway, knowing there must be a reason.

I parked a block away, on the far end of the park, and walked the dirt path towards the back of those already seated and listening to the music being performed by local musicians. As I approached, even from a distance, I knew I was “incognito”, smiled to myself and  shook my head in recognition of the moment. I say that because, generally the way I look in church is different than how I normally might appear to those who have seen me only in the church surround.

I passed by a gentleman seated at a table of his own which was next to a picnic table. No one else was seated nearby, as he was on the backside of a raised stone planter, not within view of the gazebo where the musicians played.  I passed by him, smiled and said hello, to which he returned the greeting. I stood near a tree on the other side of the raised planter and took a photo. I was struck that the light filtering through the tree’s canopy  left a puddle of light at the roots. I was not there to listen to music.

I knew that. There is always that “knowing”…

I went back around to the man seated at the table and as I began to seat myself I asked him if he minded if I took a photo of his hat,  then sat down expecting to converse with him. I figured it was not fair that I recognized him but that he did not recognize me, so I told him we had met earlier at church, and slide off my sunglasses so he could see me eye to eye. I’m not sure exactly the moment in our two plus hour conversation that I actually took the photo of the hat, but first I took a photo of him with the hat on, as that is how I saw him in church.

I spoke with him about many things and a bit about the hat, why he chose to wear it, what that meant, and why he was in church, basically to ask for help. Some of the answers I expected, some were more or less  just part of the flow, I suppose, and there was a thing or two that I had to answer that may or may not have been what he wanted to hear when he questioned me. I think most people would steer clear of someone wearing such a hat, and that is sometimes his intent, to have others (mainly the police was his answer) leave him alone, but he did not understand that his wearing the hat to church might make some more leery than had they just passed him by on the street. What would be your first thought of seeing someone whose hat was embroidered with the words, “I am claiming to be the word of God” in black and white and red? I kinda’ took it in stride that I was sitting with a black man wearing a white hat with words written in black and red. It was just another synchronization…another visual connection I had made.

At one point in the conversation, he told me there was spider on my cap.

He was surprised I was not frightened by the spider. No, I actually like them. I took my cap off, let the spider know I was not going to hurt him (we did do some posturing back and forth first)  and I took a few photos. Little did he know, it was the very type of spider I had wanted a photo of, and being the person I am, saw it as a photo op. Removing my cap was probably a sign that I was not going to hurt the spider or the man.

The man told me he wrote poems, and tried to sell those as a way to make a living. He carries with him most of what he has written because he lives in a tent by the river. When I asked why he had attended church he said he had asked the pastor for assistance, he wanted someone to purchase a poem but was disappointed in the response he was given by the pastor, although he did get a few dollars from the church member who shook the hands of all those who were in church. He pointed out a few proverbs during our conversation, which I read but did not really discuss. I found what was important to him, other than trying to prove to the pastor he was who he wanted the pastor to know him as, a man who lived in a tent and needed some help.

Parts of our conversation gave the man an instance or two wherein he wanted me to see a particular bible verse, one being Proverbs 27:8, “As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place.”  When he asked me about what I thought about that I laughed and said something to the effect that it was a many layered thing to me because of the way I think.  I know there are birds who will leave their own nest to deposit eggs in that of another bird. I chose not to discuss it further.

He also pointed out Proverbs 28:1, where is written, “The wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” I responded by saying, “You mean like I chose to sit here, where no other would do so.” Uh, yep…

I was able to ascertain that the man had spent some time in jail, though I asked not the reason for his incarceration. That was not pertinent to me. He told me part of the reason he wears the hat is that he believed police would think him off a little, and therefore not bother him to move along as long as he was sitting with his poetry. I also found out he had been homeless a while, came to be here about 3 years ago, is receiving food stamps, but needed a job and a place to live (more permanent than a tent). I asked what measures he had taken to gain employment and to find a place to live. Part of the reason he said he had no job was that there was no place to call home, and thus, no place to get a shower. He was pretty much in a self-imposed rut and he saw no way out.

He told me he had every intention of going back to church for the evening service, just to prove the preacher wrong about part of their conversation, that he wouldn’t come back if he wasn’t helped. I did not wish to pry, but I told him many reasons why individuals or churches may or may not help a person in the manner in which they asked, and proceeded to enlighten the man about what he had already received that had no monetary value.  I was not preaching to or at him, I just felt the lesson about another individual’s perspective was worth the look, and each thing we do in life is something from which we can learn.  My aim is often to separate the wheat and the chaff of the day. I suggested that if he went back to church  to seek another reason for being there. What did he really want? It took a while to strip away all other things.

I asked, “Beyond all other things about which you could ask of the church or anyone else, what is your most basic need?” I wanted to know what he could not do on his own, what was the one thing he needed the most.

 “I want a place where I can take a shower.”  

Hmmm. I noticed a post on my Facebook feed showed a photo that seems to fit right in here, so pardon my ADD as I include it. The timing of it seemed obvious. A used bar of soap with the words “sanctification in the everyday”.

I thought about the man’s need being pretty basic, and part of  his cycle of not being able to move forward from where he was. I asked him if he had asked that of any community assistance provider, and he said no one offered showers, only food. I know some shelters and YMCA’s have facilities where men can clean up, but this is a small town. After some further discussion, and knowing he would indeed go back to the same church, I suggested he might only ask the pastor where he could take a shower. He liked that idea.  I thought it made sense…it IS pretty basic. Lord only knows what else he had on his agenda later that evening, but I said to him, ask that, and the next time I see you, I will give you that one thing I purchased yesterday when I walked the streets taking photos. He was intrigued.

At the time I put my glasses and hat back on I said it was all timing, that I needed to leave. I left the way I came, unnoticed. I drove home, went in the house, grabbed the purchase I had made the previous day and wrapped it in a piece of paper,  a handwritten note. I walked as quickly as possible  towards the church and as I was within whistling earshot, I gave a whistle to him, having seen he was back from the church door, apparently having forgotten something. I handed him the note-wrapped article and he read it aloud, “In order that a man take a shower it helps to have a bar of soap.”

Not sure when I will see this man again…maybe next Sunday. I liked talking with him. I know the shower will come, so the least  I could do was to provide him with the bar of soap he may need when it does.

If you have never heard or seen a duck how would you know a duck when you heard or saw it? You might mistake a duck for a goose.

They say water rolls off a duck’s back, but do you know why? When wet, they secrete an oil from glands near their tail. With their bill, ducks rub the oil over themselves and thus the oil keeps the water from soaking through their feathers. Ducks might be “waterproof” but they can also be covered in man-made oil that  is detrimental to their survival. Fortunately there is a product that can work with water to break down that which is toxic.



One response »

  1. just so others know, I did offer him money, which he refused, and I do hope to see him again …he is an interesting man with a beautiful face and soul.

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