A Mother’s Day Surprise

We had an interesting, but sad, experience on Mother’s Day last week.

My wife and I live on a large lake in Palm Beach County, Florida.  I’ve referred many times to the wildlife shows that we are privileged to view on a daily basis.  When we think of the money that we have spent while on vacations to go to bird sanctuaries or animal refuges, I have to laugh.  Right in our backyard, we have a never-ending display of the richness of the world of nature.

Young otter on our “beachfront”

Last week, for example, we had a family of lake otters playing on our “beachfront.”  Since the lake is at its lowest level before the rainy season starts in June, we now have a strip of sand which is about six feet wide.  The two young otters were rolling around in the wet sand while their parents were nearby eating the fish they had caught.  

About two weeks ago, we noticed that there was a large male duck hanging around the kayak that we keep just on the outside of our screened-in patio, only a few feet from where we have been having almost all our meals for the past year.  We figured that he had defined our backyard as his territory. 

The view from our patio

One morning while having breakfast, we started to hear occasional knocking sounds from inside the overturned kayak. We hadn’t been in our kayak in about a week because it had been very windy.

Later that morning, I decided to investigate the source of the noise and I discovered that there was a lone duck egg in a carefully dug out depression in the grass under the kayak.  Surrounding the egg were several feathers the mother duck had plucked to provide cushioning for her future clutch.  We figured that the noise we were hearing was the bumping of the mother duck against the sides of the kayak as she constructed her nest. 

One egg…….

As the week progressed, we understood why the male duck was guarding the area.  A few times we would see the female squeeze out from under the kayak and the two of them would “go for breakfast,” as we called it. 

As the weather improved, we were anxious to get back to our excursions on our lake in the kayak, but we were reluctant to disturb the nest.  We checked it several times over the course of the week and discovered that each day, the nest was deepening and there was a total of four eggs along with more of her feathers and some repositioned garden stones.  

Later that week, three eggs……

On Mother’s Day, we remarked that we hadn’t seen the male duck standing guard over his incubating progeny.  When we turned the kayak over, we were shocked to find the female dead lying next to her four eggs.  Her neck had been slashed.   Her eggs were untouched.

Dead mother duck and her four eggs

Although we were sad to see the carnage and the incomplete incubation the eggs, we understood that this was a perfect example of the cycle of nature.  It was just that we had become such close observers of the potential miracle of life, and ultimately, the reality of death as well. 

We gave the mother duck and her eggs a proper burial on the shore of our lake.  An alternative could have been to leave her to the army of turkey vultures who are always nearby to do the clean-up job as nature’s ultimate recyclers.   

The proper burial on the beach

The only benefit we had from this “event of nature” was that we were able to reclaim our kayak.  After giving it a thorough cleaning of the scattered feathers and blood, we had a beautiful ride on the lake.  It was especially poignant on Mother’s Day when we saw several other mother ducks and geese carefully leading their babies behind them. 

R.I.P.: Costco Photo Center

When I recently learned that the Costco Photo Centers were being phased out, I wept along with many other photographers who had counted on them to create beautiful enlargements.  Let me explain why I was one of their favorite customers.

Until I retired six years ago, I was a pediatrician in Palm Beach County, Florida for almost 35 years.  In the 10 years before I stopped working, my wife and I had been traveling all over the world and I would display some of my favorite photos on the walls of my offices.  My patients were often surprised when I told them that the enlargements were done by Costco.

Many years ago, when my young patients and their parents began to admire my pictures, I decided to give them copies of my favorites in simple 5 x 7 cardboard mattes. I would order 500 at a time at Costco every few months.

Many patients would tell me that they posted their “Dr. Kraft pictures” on the kids’ bedroom walls.  I would make a geography lesson out of it for the school-age children.  Each picture came with the assignment to research where the picture was taken.  Some parents even shyly asked if they could have one from my selection basket. 

Gifts for kids in Bali

When we were traveling, I would carry an assortment of these simply-framed pictures to give away to children and adults in exchange for letting me take their pictures.  I have photos of children and adults holding my pictures from our trips to China, Bali, Japan and Peru.  It’s a great icebreaker!  When a hotel clerk or flight attendant has been especially kind, I also give them one of my enlargements.  It’s my favorite way of thanking them for their special service.  They often told me that they appreciated it more than any monetary gift.  

Until Costco decided to eliminate their in-store photo centers, their employees would ask where we were going next and when I was going to order another large batch of pictures.  That is not going to happen anymore since I’m retired, but I do have some new favorites which I will enlarge for my home through mail order.  When our traveling eventually resumes, I will continue to bring some pictures along with me to give out wherever we go.

Now whenever I go to Costco, I see my old patients who remind me of the photos that they still have from their visits to my office.   I am happy to see that this is part of my legacy as their pediatrician in my community.        

Sick and Well Waiting Rooms

An essay in the “World Through a Lens” series appeared in the New York Times Travel Section recently which reminded me of something that happened soon after I moved to West Palm Beach, Florida over 40 years ago.    It was written by a Seattle-based photographer, Richard Frishman, who traveled across the United States “to document the vestiges of racism in America” in a stunning piece called “Hidden in Plain Sight: The Ghosts of Segregation.”    

In 1980, I was new to “the South.”  Having spent my entire childhood in New Jersey and all my undergraduate and post-graduate years “up North” in Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland, I definitely had preconceived notions of what it would be like to live and work in Florida.

When I came to South Florida, I found it a curious combination of North and South.  Given that there were many retirees from the North, many people viewed the tri-county area of Dade (Miami), Broward (Ft. Lauderdale) and Palm Beach as “the sixth borough of New York City.”  I soon found out that my county, Palm Beach, had an unusual mixture of different demographic elements.  On the Atlantic side on the east lay the town of Palm Beach was a mostly elite class of very wealthy people.  The middle of the county was a mixture of working-class and professional people made up of geographically separated whites, Blacks and Hispanics.  The majority of the Hispanic population during those early years were middle-class Cubans who had migrated from the counties further south. 

But fifty miles inland, the primarily agricultural area called “The Glades” was located.  Except for the small number of mostly white and Hispanic landowners, the population was made up of poor Blacks of American and Caribbean origin. There was a striking difference compared to the rest of the people in the county.  During those years, I often saw diseases among the children from that area that I had not seen except in underdeveloped countries which I had visited.  Conditions in the Glades were so abysmal that they rivaled other poverty zones in the “Deep South” of the United States and third-world countries.

I present this background because I was very naïve to the conditions in which I would be working in my first job in Florida. After all, I was a young, idealistic doctor whose sole experience up to that point was working in an inner-city hospital in New York and in a government-sponsored clinic in Baltimore.  Like most new doctors, I thought “I had seen it all.” 

On my first site visit before I was hired, I was pleased to see a new concept in pediatric offices.  There were two waiting rooms:  One for “Sick” and the other for “Well” patients. 

Later that year, when I entered my new workplace on my first day, I wasn’t prepared for something that truly shocked me.  As the office manager led me through the two adjacent waiting rooms on our way back to the inner area of the office, I told her that I was so impressed that I would be part of such a forward-thinking office with a two waiting rooms.

“Oh,” she paused, waiting to deliver me the shocking news.  “You obviously come from up North.  Those were the white patients’ waiting room and the colored patients’ waiting room, as it was back in the 50s when I first started working here.” 

You could have blown me over with that explanation!