Have you ever had a little baby duckling cuddle up to you? I’m not talking about a pet. I mean an animal raised in the wild. A park ranger told me a bonding can take place when a baby loses its mother. I asked him, “Why did it choose me?” He just grinned and shrugged.

It happened on a spring afternoon. My girlfriend and I took a picnic lunch to a park and spread out a blanket on the ground beside a lake. After eating, we stretched out in each other’s arms. As I was enjoying myself, I didn’t pay much attention to my surroundings.

That is until I heard an insistent quacking. It was growing steadily louder. I’m not sure about ducks, but I know geese can become belligerent. So, I raised my head to see what was going on. There was a little brown duckling waddling as fast as it could waddle up from the lake, quacking as loudly as its little lungs could manage. And it was making a beeline for me. Seeing I wasn’t likely in peril, I settled back down.

Since I was laying on my side, the duckling came right up to my back, its quacking subsiding to soft ‘coos’, before it settled into a soft quivering ball. It felt so weird having this little animal huddled up against me. I eventually turned to see what was going on. Greatly agitated, the duckling began hopping around and quacking loudly again.

My girlfriend looked up to see what was going on. She laughed, calling me ‘Mother Duck’. She told me to lay back down. I did, and the duckling settled down against my back as it had before, resuming its soft cooing. My girlfriend said the duck had adopted me. We both settled back down on our blanket, while the duckling remained burrowed into my back, shivering and cooing. Eventually, it stopped doing that—it must have fallen asleep.

The three of us were content for a while, until two of us decided it was time to go. When I stood up, the duckling exploded into frantic quacking and spastic hopping. I walked back toward the lake, and the duckling followed, giving my girlfriend a chance to gather up our things. The duckling followed me to the lake’s edge. I veered away, hoping it would continue on into the water. No way. It stayed on my trail, quacking all the while. My next strategy was to walk through a large flock of ducks, hoping the duckling would be distracted by its own kind. The flock parted before me, and the duckling never deviated from its pursuit.

By now I was getting desperate. I wasn’t about to take the duckling home with me. I’m sure that was a capital offense as far as park rules go – DO NOT KIDNAP THE ANIMALS! Failing to shake the little duckling, I met up with my girlfriend at my car. She was laughing all the while, thoroughly enjoying my predicament.

Her laughter was cut short when we jumped in the car and I turned the engine on—the duckling charged heedlessly out into the street, straight toward us. “He’s going to get run over!” she exclaimed, jumping out of the car and running out into the street to scoop the duckling up. It grew even more upset at this, definitely not wanting anything to do with her. She ran over the hill out of sight, then came dashing back without the duckling. I pulled out into the street and opened the passenger door for her. She hopped in and we started to drive off when the duckling came charging back into view, and into the road again.

“Stop,” my girlfriend ordered. “It’s going to get killed.” So, I reluctantly pulled over. I got out of the car and picked the duckling up. It immediately settled down in my hands like it had against my back. I was flummoxed. That little duck was either going to be with me or it was going to die trying. What do you do when something becomes that attached to you and you aren’t able to return the affection?

Luckily, a park ranger had witnessed our difficulty. He walked up and took the duckling. I explained to him what had happened and that I had done nothing to encourage this. He just laughed and said most likely the duckling had gotten kicked out of the nest for some reason. He said my jacket was brown, like a mother duck, and that may be why it had taken up with me. He told us to go on, that he’d take care of the duckling. We drove away, both checking the rearview mirror.

This was a good joke between us—my girlfriend called me ‘Duck Mother’ for a while. We never returned to that park, not wanting a chance encounter with the duckling. But I kept that jacket for a long time, much longer than I kept my girlfriend.