When we first acquired our land, several of our friends had strong opinions about what sorts of animals should populate our potential farm, peacocks being the first in a procession of not-so-practical-but-well-meaning-or-at-least-decorative suggestions.
Not wanting to be divorced in the first year of owning my first farm, I held back at leaping to satisfy each and every interesting proposition. This was not easy. I have wanted to be a farmer forever, and getting started as soon as possible could lead me to consider the repercussions of peacocks only after I had them installed. The, ‘and then what’ was nearly a secondary consideration, but I knew that mustering up a reasonable amount of self-control and applying a certain critical sensibility to the developments would be paramount to staying married.
Much to my chagrin, it was soon apparent that I was not actually in control of who would make the decisions, nor what species would populate what would soon become known as Howling Duck Ranch. Some friends, undeterred by my non-committal, ‘I’ll have to think about it and consult the other-half’ response, took matters into their own hands.
That was how it came to pass that I arrived home from work one evening to find that I was now the unsuspecting owner of 6 Muscovy ducklings. They were nestled happily in a cardboard box in the garage, all set up for husbanding, replete with water, feed, heat-lamp and a ‘god-father’ beaming proudly as he handed them over to my care. I gazed over at the Other-half with a pleading, ‘Who am I to say no at this point?’ look.
Several weeks later, they were happily relocated from the garage to a dog house next to the pond. We let them out each morning and coaxed them in each night; it was an easy relationship since they loved their pond and also foraged far and wide for sustenance, eagerly supplementing the grain I supplied them with.
The ‘far and wide’ travels began innocently enough, staying within the boundaries of our yard. Soon however, these daily wanderings turned into mini-vacations all around the neighbourhood. Routinely after work I would press ‘play’ on the answering machine to find out where my ducks had been and what they had gotten up to during my absence.
After several days of irregular wanderings, the ducks settled on one particular neighbour’s place. He had a large field that the wild geese seemed to enjoy, and I guess my ducks took special note of this. Then my drake recalled the saying, “What is good for the goose is good for the gander.” Leading his harem to this field as part of their daily indulgence, he would watch while his gals gorged on seeds and greens. I thought it was charming, but my neighbour was not so amused.
For several days the answering machine would spurt forth the same abrupt message followed by an angry phone slamming back into its receiver: “Ah, yaaaa….it’s Krrrus…jor docks arrrrrrrr ovarrr hirrr agayyn!” Slam! I felt like the mother of a naughty child and suddenly realized how my mother always found out what I had gotten up to.
I began to dread the daily pressing of the play button. How was I going to manage my ‘docks’? I didn’t want to clip their wings. Flying was their only chance at avoiding the numerous predators in the valley, so fencing the yard to keep them in was a hopeless idea, but neither did I want to completely cage them.
Instead, I began dutiful daily rounds of running along behind them, clapping all the way, until we reached our property, and hoping they would grow out of this penchant for the neighbour’s field. Eventually, they did cooperate and began finding the few new available pastures: three other neighbouring fields, and the airport runway. Older and braver now (or more foolish), they took to flying off regularly to these fields hundreds of yards from home. The phone message “Your ducks are over here” began to take on not only new accents but also new challenges in getting them home. Our farmlet is surrounded by trees, as are the neighbouring fields, so the further afield they roamed, the more difficult the duck wrangling became.
At first they would venture only as far as the airport, four hundred meters away at the end of our country road. I would go out to the front gate, call, hear a response within seconds, followed by the stirring sight of six muscovy ducks flying towards me in tight formation along the lane at about twenty feet of elevation. With a wall of trees on each side, they looked like Han Solo’s wingmen preparing to attack the Death Star. As they began their descent, they would bank left just above my head, lower their landing gear and come to an inelegant stop somewhere in our yard.
These were my ‘duck whispering’ evenings.
But then came the moment in the middle of my chairing a community consultation meeting at the hospital. The receptionist politely informed me that I had an emergency phone call from the ambulance station just along the highway from my farm. Alarmed at the myriad horrific possibilities, I raced to the phone: “Your ducks are here,” said a paramedic. “Could you come and get them?”
“Actually I’m in a meeting,” I sighed with relief. “Could you possibly walk them home?”
Eventually I was reduced to the urban obligations of motherhood: every evening I did the equivalent of driving my Toyota Forerunner all over the valley calling out my children’s names until they appeared, climbed in the truck and got driven home. However, instead of scanning playgrounds and swing sets I was peering into ditches, sloughs and meadows; instead of calling out names I cupped my hands around my mouth and yelled, ‘Here duck-duck-duck!’ And as they emerged from the fields, I would pick each duck up, load them unceremoniously into the back of the truck and drive them home. Just like children, they would jockey and fight for the best seats: they preferred the backs of the seats where they would stare out the windows and flap their wings proudly as if in flight. As the truck accelerated, so did the flapping; then they’d flop back and forth with each gear change in a desperate attempt to maintain balance and retain their hard won position.
One evening a drake made a frenzied bid for the front seat, wings smothering my face as he pivoted on my shoulder and left his calling-card. I decided there and then that they would not turn me into a hockey mom, and laid down the law about winter ranging.