The traffic light on Winkler Avenue was green, yet the Camaro in front of me hit the brakes. I managed to avoid him as he stopped short of the duck and her eight babies, who were slowly trying to cross the four-lane street.
It was rush hour and cars were whizzing in both directions. Camaro Guy and I held our ground as the duck family reached a two-foot center strip of grass. Now what? Like a shot, the Camaro swerved into the two oncoming lanes and stopped, successfully blocking traffic.
I jumped out and tried to shoo the ducks across the remaining two lanes. The mom and five babies made it, but the three smallest ducklings were stuck, unable to climb the four-inch curb on the far side of Winkler. As impatient motorists honked, I picked up each of the gray and yellow babies and shoved them in the mother’s direction.
Finally, with the ducks safely on their way, Camaro Guy and I exchanged thumbs up and drove off.
A short while later I came upon a road sign on Daniels Parkway that gave me pause. The official black-on-yellow advisory said: PANTHER XING. I’d seen “Moose Crossing” signs in New Hampshire, but never a warning about panthers.
My rental car slowed as my mind raced. Would I see a panther? If panther babies struggled to cross the road would I dare offer help? And how would nature’s playbook work if ducks and panthers found themselves on the same street at the same time?
The panther, which can weigh over 160 pounds, is Florida’s state animal. However, according to an estimate published in 2017, only some 230 remain in the wild, due mostly to accidents with cars.
If a panther had, indeed, needed my help on Daniels, it wouldn’t have been the first time I stopped traffic to rescue a cat. That would have been 40 years ago at the intersection of 125th Street and Madison Avenue in Harlem. I was stopped at the light when several pedestrians began shouting that a tiny kitten had run under my Toyota.
I got out but couldn’t see anything under the car. As soon as the light changed, horns sounded and passersby divided into two groups. Half yelled, “Get going!” The others screamed, “Don’t move, you’ll crush the cat!”
With the help of a passing mailman, we finally located the frightened animal and put him on the seat next to me for a one-hour drive to Connecticut. By the time I pulled into my office parking lot, the kitten was nowhere to be found. However, unmistakable meowing sounds were coming from the dashboard.
Seems the cat had climbed up under the dash and became lodged behind the clock. For the next hour my colleagues and I dismantled pretty much the entire front of the Toyota until we could reach the little guy who would become my best pal and our office mascot for the next five years. I named him Dasher.
During my occasional roadway rescues I think how nice it is that most of us have soft spots for baby animals, and how unfortunate that we don’t always maintain more of that compassion as creatures, people included, get older.
In Fort Myers, I also asked myself the obvious question: Why did the duck cross the road?
Simple, really. To remind me and a guy in a Camaro that life is good.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker