Experiment #38

Waddles Flies North (Part 1 of 2)

One beautiful day in mid-October, Agnes walked from the cow barn over to the far side of the pond to see her friend, Waddles. The term “odd duck” seemed to be coined from Waddles himself. He had red eyes, a crooked neck, and his tongue always stuck out of his beak, but even these oddities were all part of his charm.

Over the past few months both Agnes and Waddles had begun studying the other’s language. They could now make themselves understood, although they sometimes got words mixed up, and Waddles’ minimalist Bovine still made Agnes laugh.

When Agnes arrived, Waddles was listening to the radio. Rather, he sat next to a radio and made sounds like one often heard on the radio. These murmuring quacks sounded remarkably like the radio in Farmer Johnson’s truck, or at least they sounded like that to a cow.

Agnes looked at the Autumn leaves all around Waddles. “Wait, aren’t you fly North for winter?” she asked in clumsy Quackish.

Waddles looked over at her and cocked his head to the side (which, given his crooked neck made it seem to stand straight up). “Hmmmm… Fly North…”

“Oh, excuse,”Agnes said, “I meant South. Fly South for winter.”

Waddles replied in his mangled Bovine, “North be much interesting more.”

From somewhere Agnes couldn’t divine, Waddles pulled out maps, charts, a compass, a sextant, and a wing-held altimeter. He lost himself in planning the trip and, try as she might, Agnes could no longer engage him in conversation.

Waddles planned his trip for a week. And then on a Tuesday in late October he waddled over to the barn. He found Agnes munching on straw and having her ear chewed off by Bessemer, Farmer Johnson’s prize heifer. Waddles cleared his throat with a cough (which is very hard to do for a duck). Agnes looked down and smiled. Bessemer kept telling the story about how she won some blue ribbon somewhere (Agnes had stopped listening).

Agnes finished the oats in her mouth then said, “I don’t think I’ve seen you in barn before.”

Waddles puffed up his feathers and spoke Bovine in a gruff resounding tone. “I have come to bid thee the bye-bye. I am momentarily headed for great white north and adventure some. I hope be back.

“The bye-bye,” he bid and waddled out of the barn. Agnes followed and caught up with him as he fixed his diving cap around his head and put his goggle in place. (Yes, goggle, singular, he’d found a single goggle eyepiece that only covered one eye. He wore it askance like a pirate’s eye patch. It somehow magnified the redness of that eye.) He tested each wing. He bent his knees and stuck out his tail. He re-adjusted his goggle, threw his wings around to limber them up, then waddled full speed toward the farmhouse. After he had gained enough momentum he jumped on a stump then to a fence post then to the barn, then at the very top of the roof he jumped and let his wings do the rest. Before long he was just a small dot in a blue Autumn sky.

Days bled into weeks and weeks into months. Agnes felt more alone than ever with no one to talk to but Bessemer, who barely stopped talking long enough to chew.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s came and went without his return. Agnes began to worry that he had gotten lost and frozen somewhere, that he had died alone.

One evening in mid-January, Farmer Johnson received an email in confusing Human:

Bienvenido Agnes, me finally to be having Internets for what trip location disjoint email sending.Hopest well you are.


Luckily the house cat, Pudding, had been watching Farmer Johnson’s email. He wanted to delete the shipping notice for the case of catnip he’d ordered on Farmer Johnson’s credit card. Pudding nearly deleted the message, but given how the names matched animals on the farm, he thought he might skim a little something off the top for email and translation services rendered.

After Agnes had promised Pudding two bowls of cream, Pudding read her the message. (Pudding was fluent in Human as nearly all cats are and had become fluent in Bovine long ago when he learned that cows were the source of cream.)

Agnes, being a cow, had only a vague idea of what Waddles’ message meant, but she was certain Waddles had sent it and that meant that he was okay, wherever he was.

She slept a little easier that night, and in the morning she bribed Pudding with more cream to send a reply in her own halting Quackish:

Waddles,Glad okay you are.

Hope you home soon come,


Three days later a new message came in and instead of gibbered Human it was in Waddles’ mangled Bovine.


Dear Agnes,Been having fun lots North. Cold white dust covers the landing. More cold never felt. Saw igloo. Met Polar Bear named Bob, very friendish. Traveling with tuna salesman.

Yours trying,


Agnes smiled as Pudding read it to her. She did not respond immediately, but took her time choosing her Quackish words carefully. She bribed the cat with yet more cream to send her reply.

Dear Waddles,Farmer Johnson trouble has gathering up the goslings and getting Curly, the pig, to behave without you. Bessemer hasn’t stopped talking about her ribbons of blue yet, but I’m hoping the old bag will run out of wind soon. The farm is lovely in fall, but when the trees and bushes and pasture are decked in snow and the air is crisp like celery, it’s breathtakingly beautiful.

Take good care of yourself and write soon,


(to be continued)

Experiment #39

Waddles Flies North (Part 2 of 2)

A few days later she received this:

These mountains pretty. Sorry, my bovine getting dirty since can’t talk it at you. Lots friendly deers and polar bears here along with arctic tern or two. Gus, the tuna salesman, and have been rolling through Canada in old Studebaker. Horn doesn’t work. I quack out window if someone ‘splash in his pond.’ He’s made me honorary mascot and gives cans tuna. Hard on beak though.

Tryingly Yours,


A day or two later Agnes sent a reply:

I hope Gus is treating you well and that drivers don’t ‘splash in his pond’ too often. Please ask for can opener so you don’t ruin your bill.

Farmer Johnson has it in his head to get an early start on mowing and has forced the cows up into the North pasture. There’s nothing to do up there but eat frozen grass and shiver. Hopefully he’ll let us stay near the barn soon.

Without you it has been hard to keep up my Quackish too, but a few of the ducks who’ve flown through let me speak with them. It’s not much but it’s something and at least I can practice in my emails, although Pudding thinks I’m silly [very silly].

Hope to see you soon,


I had to ‘paddle Gus to shore.’ He took me to diner and order an steak. ‘What next?’ I asked, ‘broiled duck?’ He did not understand seem to. Been flying round Saskatchewan since ever. Built snow cow that reminder me to you.

Canadianly Yours,


Sorry to hear about Gus. Carnivores are some of my least favorite animals. I know you enjoy quacking at inept motorists, so I hope you can find another opportunity soon.

Farmer Johnson hasn’t gotten any sense yet. He forced the horses, the sheep and Curly, the pig, up to the north pasture too this week, but all we do is huddle together for warmth. From what I understand the horses just talk about the days before tractors, though none of them are old enough to remember those days, the sheep gossip about the Australian Shepherd and his accent, and you know Curly, always playing practical jokes and oinking inappropriate stories.

When do you think you’ll fly back South?


The days got warmer and buds began to poke out of the nubs and branches of trees.

Got into bit trouble. Flying with the wrong V. Flying South complicated.

Will see what Judge says.


Agnes did not hear from Waddles for three whole weeks, though she sent several emails and had promised Pudding more cream than she could provide. However, before she had heard anything, Farmer Johnson found his email account had sent a number of emails filled with quacking and moos. He thought it was some scam to get his bank account information and changed his password.  (He now knew you couldn’t win a British email lottery worth millions of pounds and he wasn’t taking any chances on this.) With the cases of catnip that kept showing up, he was very careful to prevent anyone, even and especially Pudding, from seeing the new password.

Days bled into weeks which bled into months. By mid May Agnes despaired of ever seeing her friend again. She hoped he had not been sent to prison.

On the second of June a chartered tour bus pulled up the long gravel driveway and stopped in front of the farmhouse. Farmer Johnson came out of the barn to see what the commotion was about. A flamboyant man wearing a Hawaiian shirt and Bermuda shorts embraced him. “We’re here!” The man shouted, “We’re finally here! Now where should we start with the tour? I do hope you’ll let us get our hands dirty!” The man waved his finger at Farmer Johnson and chuckled to himself as if he’d never gotten his hands dirty in his life. Before Farmer Johnson could protest Waddles hopped off the bus and slipped a wad of bills into Farmer Johnson’s hand. It was mostly Canadian, but the principle was not lost on the farmer.

“W-w-why it starts in the barn…” Farmer Johnson said. “F-follow me.” And thus agritourism was introduced to the Johnson farm.

After the tourists had moved on to an impromptu hay ride. Waddles waddled into the barn.

Bessemer caught site of him first. “Why if it isn’t that strange duck who flew North for the winter. I thought you’d never come back… You didn’t want to stay in Canada?”

Bessemer somehow connected this to her third blue ribbon winning and launched into the story of how she came into the competition as an underdog, “on account of no one thinking she could win it three years in a row.” She had continued talking for a full ten minutes before she realized Waddles had walked past her to Agnes’ stall.

Agnes swallowed the hay in her mouth and blinked at him. A thousand questions flooded into her mind. “What happened? Where were you? Did you go to prison? How did you charter a bus? Where did all those people come from? Why would that man ever think it was a good idea to wear a Hawaiian shirt with Bermuda shorts?” Waddles flew up to the top of the stall door. He blinked his red eyes back at her. He closed his eyes, leaned his crooked neck toward her and rested his forehead on hers. Agnes smiled, closed her eyes, and let all the questions slip away. Waddles was home.