QuackersI live half the year south of the border, and it is written, despite NAFTA and all good sense, that certain animals, along with drugs and guns, are not to be admitted into Mexico. Some animals are OK. For instance, they let in Americans by the millions, those who have nothing better to do that drink themselves silly on $6-a-gallon mescal beginning at the breakfast hour, ending at midnight or so, lurching about the bars, cursing Mexicans and looking for a good fight.
These --- along with dogs, cats, and, possibly, Gila monsters are acceptable. But feathered creatures --- no. This includes chickens, ducks, and, presumably, ostriches and moas. I suppose the rationale is that the Mexican government wants to prevent the spread of certain avian diseases, like dropsy, henbane fever, chicken pox, and cockamamie.
For those of us who are chicken or duck lovers, this amounts to discriminatory treatment. Why should a poodle with pink ribbons be given preferential treatment over a Cochin, a White Crested Black Polish, or a Pekin?
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Fortunately for those of us who have this feathery love that dare not speak its name, our pets come in two forms: born and unborn. If you can't import the full motley, there are always a dozen or so hard-shelled fetuses, delivered fresh from the womb, ready to be scrambled, fried ... or hatched.
This year I've come to be interested in the rarest of the rare of ducks. They are called "Indian Runners," and they'll knock your socks off. Runners do that all the time --- that is, they run about, willy-nilly. Also, unlike your regular duck, which is hung fairly close to the ground, the runner stands upright, like a penguin. If it weren't for their wings and coloration, you'd think you had a flock of Emperors in your back yard.
Last year, I shipped twenty black Indian Runner down to my winter shack in Southern Mexico, along with an incubator. When they arrived, my worker Jesús popped them in the incubator, and exactly twenty-eight days later, twelve of them were, as they say in Spanish, "dierón a luz" --- given to the light. Three of them succumbed to what I believe was excessive quackery. The other nine have grown at an alarming rate, and now stand six foot three.
I exaggerate a bit, but given their noise and blind, down-home stupidity and their need to run about --- should I say it? --- like chickens with their heads cut off, they fill a space as big as all outdoors. They measure about thirty inches from stem to stern.
I left these noisy freaks in the hands of Jesús and he cared for them next to his outhouse until I returned this fall. There they were --- nine black beauties --- waiting for me. With only one problem.
Jesús, forever short of water, had not been able to give them a swimming area. Thus when I arrived, my ducklets did not recognize the tub of water we set out for them. They thought it was something dangerous, moved to the far side of their cage, eyeing it warily. I immediately instituted daily YMCA swim classes for our charges.
You would think it easy to teach a duck how to tread water, right? No dice. They are as receptive as your mother was to your first sweetie. And these quackers have immense wing-power, somewhere between, it's been estimated, 25,000 foot-pounds per square inch of lift. They struggle when we pick them up, scream when we put them in the tub of water. They get out of it as fast as they can, sopping us --- their loyal instructors --- and then skulking about on far side of the cage, muttering like American teenagers after you've invited them to do a little yard work. In other words, they were not overly fond of our Esther Williams Beauty Swim Course.
But I am patient, and loving --- and we are still far from The Hatchet Solution (Duck à la Orange) for our land-locked Indian Runners. I hope to report to you shortly that they have accepted their lap pool --- that they have come to know and love what is, after all, their true nature: that they have taken to it like a duck to water.--- Carlos Amantea