Barker House, 2003
They were, without doubt, the best fed Canada geese on the Lynnhaven River. It started with a Christmas present, a 5-lb tin of unsalted roasted peanuts. Merriam Wendell couldn’t stand them, considered anything other than salted roasted peanuts a waste of a good legume.
At first they just piled up in the pantry. Each Christmas the neighbor’s boy would appear with a new 5-lb tin. Because she considered the unsalted peanuts to be such an abomination, Merriam couldn’t bring herself to give them away to someone else lest her own reputation be sullied. And ever the thrifty one, she wouldn’t just throw them away. No one born in poverty could ever throw food away.
The idea of feeding the peanuts to the geese only came about after Merriam saw a feature on television about trick squirrels. Merriam had no interest in enticing squirrels to do tricks for peanuts. But she did call the local extension agent to see if it would be okay to feed peanuts to the Canada geese that took up residence each fall along the river behind her house. Her husband Herb did not take kindly to the idea. “The geese are a nuisance!” he ranted. “They leave a mess all over my dock and webbed footprints all over my boat. I don’t care if I never see another goose.”
But Merriam heard none of this. If anything, it strengthened her resolve. She offered up her entire stash of roasted peanuts that first year. Not being hemmed by the same social conventions as Merriam, the geese loved the unsalted peanuts and swarmed around her whenever she appeared at the dock landing with a tin can in her arms. The next year she expanded her menu to include a smorgasbord of peanuts, barley, rice, beans and corn. The man down at the Fuel & Feed store thought Mrs. Wendell must be feeding a barnyard full of animals.
It wasn’t a barnyard, of course. But what Merriam didn’t know was that it was a growing portion of the Canada geese that use the Atlantic Flyway for their seasonal trips up and down the coast. It was so many geese, in fact, that researchers in Georgia were starting to wonder why the geese were beginning to show up each season fatter and in greater numbers than the year before.
For years, Merriam fed the geese without attracting much attention and certainly escaping the notice of the Georgia researchers. After her boys were long grown up and Herb died, she continued to feed the geese. She enlisted her grandchildren to help haul the sacks of feed out to the dock. The first year after Merriam died, the geese waited in the river near her home. The new people who bought her house were puzzled. They never did figure it out. The geese, too, eventually moved on.