May 26 ē 04:31 AM

Just another day at backyard boot camp

May 14, 2008
"I'm so thrilled," I say. "Everyone is so well-trained. It's so easy I can't get over it."

I'm gushing about my animals. About the simple fact that all I have to do these days is pull up in the driveway and start calling out "C'mon cuties. C'mon pals," and my ducks will race out of the pond (regardless of what time of day it is) and head up toward their duck coop and let me herd them in.

This is not to say that they're not quacking about it the whole time—or that they're thrilled that they're about to be put in jail for the remainder of the day—but they do it because I say so.

It's truly just as simple as that and I'm amazed by it so I have to share it with my friend.

"Can you believe it?" I say, grinning in the late day sun, thinking I'm a true 'duck whisperer,' 'cat caller,' 'chicken channeler,' Catherine Appleseed-Doolittle and whatnot.

"It's like magic," I say, conveniently overlooking all the weeks of chasing and cajoling and all I had to do before things became so "magical."

"No, it's more like boot camp," my comical companion replies.

My idyllic vision van-ishes like a puff of smoke. He's right. It is kind of like boot camp around my place. It has to be. It's hard to control nature. In fact, it's impossible, I've been told. But that doesn't stop me from trying. Of course not.

See, the ducks have to go into the lockup every afternoon to give my chickens their allotted time on the grounds. Why? Well, spring is truly in the air in the Minolli barnyard and since my ducks are males (rather large ones I might add) and my chickens are females (petite, of course), the ducks have been acting rather typical of their gender and going after the girls (if you know what I mean). I can't necessarily say that I blame them because the chickens are rather fetching—especially in the sunlight when it glistens off their iridescent feathers...when they have feathers, that is. Because of the amorous duck activity, they've gotten just a little bit bald around the back of their neck areas.

Therefore, boot camp. Ducks out, chickens in. And vice versa. It may be boot camp, but it's a very democratic and equitable boot camp.

Ditto for my furry friends. Right now, the "kitten" is in jail. That is to say she is not allowed outside. Imprisoned like a petty thief in the cool confines of my home. That's because I really like wrens. Every year I get a wren or two in the houses I have—one that hangs off the side deck and one that's affixed to the side of the barn. They're so cute. They make such a pretty song. They're entertaining to watch. And they come in cat-snack-size.

"Aha!" Wise-guy notes. "Face it, you just like wrens more than you like cats."

Oh, contraire. I just like wrens a lot more when they're not sticking out of the furry muzzle of one of my cats.

So you might think jailing old 'Snackfood,' (the ironic name for my "kitten") isn't that bad. Well, for Snackfood, it's pretty close to torture. She tears around my wood and linoleum floors like a kitten posses-sed. She plays with any minute scrap of paper, blade of grass I drag in on my shoes, the strap of my purse dangling off the kitchen table, and so on. Let's just say I have parted ways with more than one of my favorite trinkets that have come crashing to the floor when Snackfood's knocking into things because she's tearing around so fast my floors seem like ice rinks.

And while that might not seem too bad—of course it's not—for her elderly step-sisters, her jail time is their jail time. See, the old gals (Poot, who's 16 and Pudge, a spry 15) just haven't learned to accept little Snacky into the fold. It's been three years now and every time I let them all in the same room together, Snackfood's about to become her name. The old gals can't wait to get their paws on her. Fur flies, balls of battling fluff roll down the hall. It's ugly. So, when Snackfood has the run of the upstairs (every day from 6:30 a.m. to about 6 p.m.), the seniors are in the basement. They get the remain-der of each day's 24 hours upstairs, after Snackfood's safely ensconced in her own room. They prefer it that way because they like to hog my bed at night.

It all works rather well for me, too, duck-whisperer, cat-caller, chicken-channeler that I am. Just call me Drill Sgt. Doolittle.

Email Catherine at

Castle Creek
Milnes Ford
05 - 26 - 19
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