|Hooded Merganser amidst mallards, Bullocks Cove, Riverside, RI|
The police cruiser drives down the bike path toward me. The officer pulls up and rolls down his window. I lower my binoculars.
-- We're looking for a boy, nine years old, blue pants with yellow stripes. He's mentally retarded and missing from his home. We think he's around here. Have you seen him?
I think for a second.
--No. But I'll keep an eye open.
--Say, could you zoom in on that blue thing across the water?
I comply with his request.
--Looks like an old kite.
He drives on down the bike path.
--Good luck (I offer)
Meanwhile, I'm thinking--Oh great, suspicious guy with camera and binoculars. Taking photos of what exactly? Soon he'll be driving back down to ask me where I'm hiding the kid...
I walk on, lured by the sound of a song sparrow in full song. Turning back for a moment, I see a boy emerge from the phragmites and run across the path. Binoculars up. Blue pants with yellow piping. I wave down the officer and he drives back down. I point to where I saw the boy.
As I walk past I get a glimpse of the ensuing negotiation. The boy is huddled on a rock along the bank, swaying back and forth. Two more East Providence Police cruisers are pulled up onto the bike path.
--Hey buddy, your Mom's worried about you. Let's go.
The boy doesn't seem to be in the mood to go. (Eventually he must have given in because the police cruisers were soon gone from the area.)
Well, nice to be of some use, I thought, walking back. And all those hooded mergansers, nice to see them too (must have been two dozen, easily).
As I was driving back home tonight, though, I began to feel a little sad. Yes, it was important that this boy be found and returned safely home. I'm sure his parents were terribly worried. But I saw a certain, familiar attitude in him. He wanted to be there, freely exploring the phragmites, sitting on the bank looking at the water. In fact, the rock on which he was sitting when they found him--that's my favorite spot. That's where you get the best view of the hoodies floating by.
When I was his age, my favorite thing was navigating the swamp next to our house. When I come back to Rhode Island, now in my forties, my mother still must see that certain look in my eye.
--Do you want to take a walk?
--Yes, how did you know?