Outwebbed by The Indy Pond Runners

I suppose I am to blame for my sons' love of ducks. Carlos was 5 the day we went to the hatchery to pick up an order of chicks. While both my boys peered at the aisles of incubators, an older man stomped up. The air vibrated with cheeping, and he shouted over the cacophony.

"Would your boys want some ducks?"

I was concentrating on writing my check and merely nodded my head. It wasn't until everyone was settled into the car that I realized what I had done.

Ducks.

In contrast to chicks who gobble their food and snuggle in a fluffy heap, ducklings dabble in their water, drenching themselves and everything nearby. And unless ducklings have a mother who rubs her own oil into the ducklings' down, they chill and need human assistance.

Carlos eagerly became a surrogate parent, and when the ducklings could survive being wet, he and his webbed-footed friends splashed together in a huge washtub. This bonding flamed his enthusiasm for fowl, and when he could manage the print, he read "Raising Poultry Successfully."

From that time on he'd quote passages from the text to me while I washed dishes. His favorite recitation was the section listing 10 important reasons why all homesteads needed ducks. Poultry catalogs filtered into our home, and Carlos spent his evenings memorizing breeds and duck trivia.

His own flock of ducks flourished and included Peking, Rouen, and the diminutive English Call ducks, but the breed our farm lacked were Indian Runners. After a friend showed us the movie "Babe," we all hankered to watch those long-necked ducks pace among the poultry.

One day, my husband came home from the feed mill with a scrap of paper upon which he had scribbled a phone number for someone selling runner ducks. He called, and later that evening we drove down the farm's lane, coming face to face with a pen of 3O quacking ducks.

"You can have the lot for $25," the woman offered.

A few pairs floating on our pond would be great, but we had no need for 30 ducks! So my sons captured six, shut them in a large dog crate, and we sped home. We deposited the ducks in their coop and waited to see them run.

The next morning, the lads opened the coop and shooed the ducks out. Instead of running toward the pond, five of the ducks raced down the driveway. My sons waved their arms, whereupon the ducks increased their speed and left behind two breathless boys. Only one of the runners had made for the pond and swam about, quacking for her friends.

After breakfast, my sons hopped onto their mountain bikes and searched the farm. Carlos was convinced that the flock had headed toward Blueberry Hill. Mattie scouted out the isolated end of our pond, while I walked miles of ditches in the blueberry bog, watching for a head to peek over some clump of nettles or quack grass.

"Coyote bait," I muttered when at last I trudged home. I decided to walk our half-mile driveway and fetch the mail. There, about a third of the way down the driveway, I spied the prints of webbed feet.

SO, our runaways had made it that far before they took off cross country for points unknown. That evening we returned to the duck farm and purchased five more ducks. After being locked in their new home for several days, Carlos gently propped open the door of the coop and allowed these ducks to exit on their own free will. The lone runner from the first flock encouraged her friends to join her on the pond, and away they paddled.

About a week later, I realized that I had not seen the runners that day. I strolled over to the secluded section of our pond and scanned the water. The runners were dabbling and diving. I counted heads: one, two, five, seven .... eleven! Our wayward ducks had snuck home!

The following morning, all the runners were waiting in the copse near our barn. Carlos filled a small bucket with corn and broadcast the kernels about the barnyard. Out dashed the ducks. At last they had reached the finish line, and could partake of their homecoming breakfast at our son's feet.

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