One who knows the way

A mother duck and her ducklings at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, May 2013

A mother duck and her ducklings at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, May 2013

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.” 
John C. Maxwell

As Reneé, Roger, Tammy and I walked through one of the outdoor courtyards at Walter Reed NMC, one of them said, “Look, a mother duck and her babies!”  Naturally, I had to take some photos.  It was really interesting to watch how the mother duck reacted to my presence, and how her nine ducklings responded to her every move.  They were clearly accustomed to people, and showed no fear as long as we kept a distance.  The mother  would waddle along and the babies would hop along behind her, often in single file.  But the instant she stopped — which she did whenever I got too close — the ducklings would cluster next to her and freeze until she moved again.

We watched them until they traversed the courtyard and turned into the bushes on the other side, although they froze several times when I approached, and their actions followed an amazingly identical pattern each time.  As far as I could tell, she gave them no vocal signals, nor even a gesture with her wings, unless it was so subtle that I missed it.  But her confidence must have been enough for the ducklings, who watched closely and imitated her actions without fail.

My best teachers in life are people I remember mostly for who they were and what they did, not for things they said.  Certainly verbal instruction is an important skill, but no didactic lesson compares with an example in action.  Wherever your career, interests or circumstances lead you, I hope you will have some great leaders who know, go and show…and maybe you can be one yourself!


  1. Eric

    If you ever accidentally wander onto the downrange portion of a golf driving range; even if you are not following a leader, DUCK!

  2. Sheila

    Good Monday morning, Julia! I’m hoping and praying that this will be the week of many good things happening in your life. As I enjoyed the photo, I was thinking of how you can capture the moment through your lens, no matter where you are. What a gift and blessing. We are back in Garden City, after a wonderful visit with Bill’s dad. He is 91 and definitely the “leader of our band”. He is one of the oldest living alumni of Wake Forest University and he makes us so proud. Thank you for the Upper Room update. I hope that you can enjoy a walk today! Love to you and yours, Sheila

    • Thanks so much, Sheila. Bill’s dad sounds like quite a guy. I know you two feel fortunate to have him still with you! I sometimes get teased about always having my camera at hand, but I guess I’m an archivist at heart; that’s probably why I got my library degree. I definitely DO plan to take a walk today; perhaps I’ll take my camera with me! Thanks so much for being here and adding cheer to my day!

      • I am one of those who has teased Julia BUT I was always glad to be the recipient of her work!! 🙂

        • Wow, I don’t remember you being one of the ones who teased me about the camera, although you’ve had plenty of opportunities! Hope to be taking some more happy photos again soon.

      • Sheila

        About the walk? Just to let you know I’m thinking of you, my friend! Sheila

        • Sheila, the walk tonight was lovely, it must have been your good wishes crossing the miles! Thanks so much for being here!

  3. Easy to preach… Loved this post.
    Yes, I have great respect for some of my colleagues who are very silent, never join the gossip sessions, but do their work perfectly without uttering a word about the amount of work they do. Students give great respect to such teachers.
    Being a leader- tough job! And the photo – so cute! Enjoyed reading your experience with them.

    • I’m so happy you liked the post and photo! I had an amazing professor in graduate school who was just as you describe. Very no-nonsense, but I learned more by just watching how she worked than I have ever learned from any teacher’s classroom lectures. And this woman is quite respected, as you say, not just by her students but also by other professionals. Thanks for being here!

  4. Boy, isn’t that the truth. Well said, Julia. Love, love, love the photos.

    • Thanks so much! I’m happy to have you here, and appreciate your comments!

  5. You know, the funny thing about this post is that I JUST saw a mother duck yesterday with her babies. Granted, it was as I was driving around a corner on a major road and had to slam on the breaks so as NOT to kill her! I almost didn’t see her. She was crossing the road in the speckled shade of the forest (which made it hard to see both her and her something like 12 babies–I’ve never seen that many ducklings with one mother before!) and I’m sure it seemed quiet and a perfectly fine place to cross to her until I came around the corner (doing the speed limit, I might add). I managed to avoid hitting her, and fortunately, as I was somehow at the front of a bunch of cars, they managed to avoid hitting me. I drove away, but was glad to see in my rear view mirror that they managed to get out of harm’s way as all traffic had stopped to let them cross. Typical in Alaska, as we always watch out for our wild life. BUT I couldn’t help but think of Robert McCloskey’s “Make Way for Ducklings” after it had occurred.

    I also have to say that the colors in this photo are brilliant. It’s absolutely gorgeous! I’ve been thinking and praying for you. I’ve looked for your sometimes random comments on The Upper Room about Jeff’s status (and hoped by friending you on Facebook I might find status updates there too). I hope things are going well.

    • Let me start with a total non sequitur here – I just arrived home after a very hard day and found the most LOVELY surprise package at my door! 🙂 The kind that can just make your day. I thought you would understand. I’m glad you were able to avoid hitting the ducks, that would be so traumatic! It does sound like “Make Way for Ducklings,” doesn’t it? I’m glad people are still reading those classics. In Alaska I imagine that you have plenty of wildlife to watch out for! I have been really amiss about updating people about Jeff’s situation (and now Matt’s) but it’s mostly that the news has not been good lately and I don’t have the heart to keep sending “no improvement” reports…I keep praying to have at least a bit of sunny news to go along with the more worrisome details. For now, suffice it to say that we certainly need the prayers as always, and do really appreciate them. We are doing OK, some days are better than others, but we are hanging on, and now and then there are “grace notes” (like the package tonight) that remind us people care. Thanks for being here and for caring! I will be thinking of you over a cup of tea for many days to come!

  6. merry

    Julia…what a wonderful picture of life going on, as our hearts are breaking. Its a lovely picture. You’re gifted. And as my g-son would say, “you’ve got the eye!”
    He’s a camera buff too. lol…
    Thank you for the up date regarding Jeff and Matt. You and your family is in my prayers.
    Praying for blessed and peaceful night for you.

    • Thanks so much Merry – the prayers are helping us keep going in hope for easier days to come! I’m so glad you liked the photo. It was wonderful to see the ducklings that day, really a kind of joy that can’t be tainted by other trials.

  7. MaryAnn

    Julia, Paul loves this photo. Recently, he watched a mother duck & her many ducklings walking beside the railroad tracks behind his machine shop. She was protecting them from a crow. Paul was so engrossed in this display of nature that was so up close! He said the mother duck won.
    I am so happy that you enjoyed a part of God’s Creation that day!

    • Yes, it was like a little gift that day to see the mother duck and her babies. Crows can be formidable; I’m glad the mama duck won, and that Paul was able to see it!

  8. How sweet to share your walk with mum and her little crew. You’ve captured a great photo. Your message hit home too Julia. They are so vulnerable yet so trusting.

    • Those little ducklings were such a sight for sore eyes after a long day in the surgery waiting room. It was like a special little gift sent to us to lighten our spirits. Even just remembering them makes me smile 🙂


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