The forest is turning into a lake, slowly but surely.
Its resident ducks love this, but they are becoming confused. The preponderance of ponds has gone to their little ducky brains. Air or water? Flying or swimming? Which to choose, which to choose?
Yesterday, yards ahead of us, a duck was taking a walk. It chose not to use those glorious wings but to potter from puddle to puddle with all the avaricious greed of a prospector who has found gold. Mine, its little ducky thought processes were going, All Mine.
From where we were standing its spindly legs were going like the clappers, elevating that unlikely body just inches above the mire.
It is the shape of the duck which causes such affection and merriment among us humans. Surely, it should topple over? Once again Nature bests us with an ingenious large webbed foot which can hold even the most ungainly weight distribution suspended in the air.
But the feet were dispensed with all together when toy makers chose the duck a favourite bath toy: the rubber duck.
Felix has just acquired a splendid rubber duck: an Olympic version with a cycle hat on, and TEAM GB emblazoned on its bottom. It carries an air of unmistakable authority like some official of the Empire, but it all goes tails-up when it gets in the bath.
The small duck begins to ship water the moment it get into the tub, and lists ingloriously to one side or the other. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Patents for moulding rubber appeared in the 1840s. But the examples of rubber ducks seem to date from the ’50s.
Some are better at floating than others. Some are not even designed to float, but just to keep out the water for play purposes. But it is that ability to be flotsam that charms my son. The floating is the thing.
It is just this quality which has immortalised the rubber duck – and other floating toys – in the annals of oceanography for all time. And all because of the gyre.
I know: you believed gyre to be a fictional Lewis-Carroll-type invention. But the gyre is a real thing and it lurks out there in the centre of the world’s vastest stretches of water, like some monstrous Greek myth.
This is the story of how the little rubber duck met the great, ogrous, subarctic gyre.
In 1992, a cargo container of children’s bath toys fell overboard in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean: at 44oN, 178oE. There were rather a lot: 29,000 to be precise. Turtles, ducks, beavers and frogs.
The story transfers to a pair of Alaskan beachcombers.
Dean and Tyler Orbison, who lived in Sitka, Alaska, made repeated finds of rubber toys on the beach, totalling about 3.3 per cent of the original spill. And like any self-respecting bloke would, they recorded their finds meticulously. They counted them. They made charts and spreadsheets of them.
Of the toys recovered, 26% were beavers, 21% were frogs, 18% turtles: but a massive 35% were found to be rubber ducks. Champion floaters.
They had made it courtesy of the subarctic gyre: a huge ocean-wide circular current which is a result of a quarrel between the earth’s rotation and its stolid inertia. And the little ducks (and beavers and frogs and turtles) helped scientists to work out that it takes three years, roughly, to orbit the subarctic gyre.
Global navigators, these rubber ducks. Essential to science, you know.
No wonder Felix’s duck looks so self-important.