Stopping Traffic

Despite the name, Forest Avenue does not have a lot of trees.

The road in Portland, Maine is flanked by shopping centers, banks, old restaurants, new restaurants, and pharmacies. Traffic – and there is almost always some kind of traffic on Forest Avenue – zips over the pavement with general respect for the 25 mile per hour speed limit.

And on a warm Saturday in May, my mother was about to join that traffic. She took the curving ramp off the highway. She slowed for the merge onto Forest Avenue. She accelerated into the traffic.

But my mother never made it to a full acceleration.

Because walking across the pavement of Forest Avenue at well under the 25 mile per hour speed limit was a mother mallard followed by seven gray ducklings the size of store-bought muffins.

And these seven gray store-bought muffins and their mother brought all six lanes of Forest Avenue to a standstill.

Mrs. Mallard, as Robert McCloskey would have called her, made it easily across the road and hopped up on the sidewalk curb.

The ducklings wobbled, teetered, and scooted their way to the curb. Then stopped. All seven of them stared up at the curb. The four-inch curb that was twice the size of their store-bought muffin selves.

A woman saw all this. Perhaps it was the woman walking on the sidewalk. Perhaps it was the woman with a sign asking for money on the Forest Avenue median. My mother isn’t sure. But a woman – who moments before was living her own life – went to the curb, scooped up seven little lives, and put them on the sidewalk.

And those seven little ducks out of water wobbled, teetered, and scooted after Mrs. Mallard.

The numbers in this story aren’t big: My mother’s one car stopped on one Portland road. Seven little lives crossing six big lanes of Forest Avenue. Two hands scooping seven lives up over a four-inch curb.

But little doesn’t mean small. And little doesn’t mean unimportant.

Little things, after all, can stop big traffic.

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