Jerry Nelson: The lost honker

Jerry Nelson Special to the Farm Forum
Farm Forum

The storm-tossed drifter washed up one wintry spring morning as I was finishing chores on our dairy farm.

Snowstorms had plagued us for so long that it appeared spring might be cancelled due to inclement weather. As I was shutting one of our barn’s massive sliding doors – a task that, due to the snow, was only slightly less difficult than dragging a military tank through a swamp – I espied the bedraggled vagabond cowering by the wall.

He was obviously in some sort of daze. Call me heartless, but I normally avoid becoming involved in such situations. None of my business. You makes your choices and places your bets.

But the little vagrant looked so wretched and cold that I couldn’t help but pity him. Against my better judgment, I scooped him up, took him home and installed him in our basement.

And that’s how our farmhouse’s cellar became a shelter for peripatetic poultry. Specifically, a Canada goose.

Our two sons, who were in grade school at the time, were fascinated and delighted by our new houseguest. My wife, less so.

“What are you going to do with him?” she asked. “He can’t stay in the basement forever!”

“I know,” I replied, “I guess I jumped in without thinking things through.”

“If I had a nickel for every time you said that, I could live in a house that doesn’t have a honker in the basement!”

A much more pressing question soon had to be answered: what does one feed a wild goose? We didn’t have any wild rice on hand, so we punted and offered him some free-range Cheetos.

The bird was huddling glumly in a corner of the basement. Some of his feathers stuck out at odd angles. It’s how you might imagine a wild goose would look following a night of wild partying.

The boys placed a handful of Cheetos near the goose. We gave him some space and the migratory misfit pecked experimentally at our offering. Apparently, some wild geese have an unnatural affinity for fried corn meal puffs that contain cheese seasoning, whey protein concentrate, monosodium glutamate and yellow # 6. The goose chain-narfed Cheetos like a stoner watching a Star Wars movie marathon.

The weather gradually began to recover and so did the goose. This brought us some new problems.

First was the fact that Cheetos go through geese like, well, Cheetos through a goose. We put down newspapers, but geese aren’t known for their fastidious toilet habits. Our basement floor began to resemble the bottom of a gigantic bird cage.

Second was that geese are vocal creatures. Our houseguest began to fill our home with earsplitting honks. It wouldn’t have been bad if he had voiced his opinion about the lousy room service during the daytime, but he sometimes raised a ruckus randomly at night. It was as if our basement had been taken over by Ozzy Osbourne.

Another problem was that the boys were starting to become attached to the bird. My wife and I knew that the time had come for the goose to go when we overheard our sons discussing names for him. Among the possibilities being considered were “Webby” and “Beaky”. My wife and I would have chosen “That Noisy, Messy Thing In The Basement”.

One sunny spring afternoon, we informed the boys that our waterfowl wayfarer needed to be returned to the wild. The three of us went to the basement and caught the goose. This was no small undertaking as he had grown quite feisty. He even hissed at us when he deemed us too close for his comfort. Talk about ingratitude!

We took the squirming bird outside and launched him skyward. He unfurled his wings and soared majestically off into the wild blue. We waved goodbye to our avian pal as he flew in a majestic arc. An arc that took the birdbrain right back to our lawn.

The goose landed a short distance from us and honked stridently. Good grebe! Would we never rid ourselves of this noisome nattering?

Our calico cat, whom the boys had named Calico Kitty, viewed this as an opportunity. She began to stalk the goose even though the lawn offered her zero cover.

As the cat approached, the goose honked with annoyance and flew a few yards. Undaunted, Calico Kitty tried again. This scene repeated itself several times until the goose grew weary of it, took wing and disappeared over the horizon.

And that’s the last we saw of him. But now, all these years later, our area is infested by large population of vociferous Canada geese. Geese who probably have an unnatural affinity for Cheetos.

If you’d like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at and at booksellers everywhere.

Jerry Nelson