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Warning: anthropomorphism ahead.

So I was peacefully walking to the car from work the other day, when I was once again struck by the innocence of nature. "Innocence", of course, refers to the "innocence" so commonly seen in devilishly annoying young imps.

The pond next to the Space Systems Laboratory is an organic, smelly place. It is surrounded by cattails and invariably covered with a thick scourge of green goo. Often used by the Biological Resources Engineering and Agronomy departments, it appears toxic. And yet, somehow, critters survive there. I have seen a heron, the occasional beaver, geese, fish, frogs, turtles - and ducks and muskrats.

Until that afternoon, I had no idea of the rivalry between the two species ..

The first thing I saw was a duck couple out for an afternoon swim. Pleasantly circling around, nipping at each other's feathers, occasionally indulging in a gulp of algae - just like all the other frolicking young couples regularly seen about campus.

Suddenly, from the far side of the pond, came a speeding, brown, furry bullet!

The muskrat did not seem to have any particular goal in mind, at first - I thought perhaps I had frightened it, and it was rushing to join the three or four other muskrats lurking beneath an overhanging shrub.

But, no. It was headed singlemindedly for the precise spot a foot and a half to the rear of the drake. It had found its position, and it was sticking to it - it chased that duck in circles all over the pond, back and forth, zig! zag! swerve!

It reminded me of my sister ...

The other muskrats cheered on the chasing one. They swam around in a circle and beat their little fists in the air! Clearly, they'd been egging it to tease the ducks for some time now.

The duck's girlfriend was alarmed, for the first few minutes. Then she started laughing at him. By this point, the drake was showing off for her - his unbelievable prowess in staving off the evil, scary muskrat!

Swimming frantically around the pond, paddle paddle paddle plop plop plop .. eventually the duck tired of the game and took flight, landing back over by his girl. The muskrat, mortified at his failure to catch a mere duck, sped off - whoosh! - dripping algae, to his secret hidey-hole, far far away from his mocking muskrat buddies.

Was the muskrat jealous of the duck's lovely lady? Do muskrats eat ducks? Was he a young, impulsive muskrat? Or had the toxic waste merely gone to his head?

Ah, lovely, lovely nature . .

I think I'll go people-watch on the mall for awhile.

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