Pondering an impoundment

Sherri Gardner HowellFarragut, Kitchen Table Talk

Unanswered questions are the curse of a journalist’s existence. Long before I knew I wanted to be a journalist, I knew I had to find answers.


It must be embedded in our DNA, for I find almost all my journalist friends will go to great lengths to find an answer, no matter how trivial the question.

To just “let it go” is seldom an option.

I have been this way since I was old enough to wonder about things. My mother called me “curious,” while my brother called me “irritating.” Even my mother would eventually weary of the constant, “But why?” when I was searching for the answer to whatever random thought popped into my mind.

The prevalence of those random thoughts led Mother to purchase three sets of encyclopedias and retreat behind an insistent, “Look it up.”

The first, when I was just learning to read, was Childcraft How and Why Library. Next came the infamous World Book Encyclopedia, followed in the late 1960s by Compton’s Encyclopedia and Fact-Index, complete with yearbooks to keep them up to date.

I barely escaped having to bring all 26 volumes of Compton’s to college with me, rescued only by my insistence that the University of Tennessee had a very good library, and my younger brother would need them as he entered high school.

My first editor, Betsy Morris, introduced me to the research department at the Knox County Public Library. While many of my questions, especially about anything local, could be answered by the knowledgeable women I worked with in the Women’s Department of the News-Sentinel, other answers were a phone call away at the main library. They were the original “Google,” and I don’t remember ever posing a question they couldn’t answer.

With this in my DNA, it is no surprise that the sign on the side of the road between Chapel Hill, N.C., and Fuquay-Varina drove me crazy. I didn’t have to wonder where the names Fuquay and Varina originated, having pondered and found the answer to that back in my teenage years. The sign “Waterfowl Impoundment Area,” however, set my mind to wondering – and wandering.

At first, I thought I misread it. Surely it said “watercraft,” for why would North Carolina want to impound waterfowl? Two more signs marking two more swampy, watery areas followed on down the road, so I knew my eyes weren’t the problem.

I ran through all manner of answers in my mind as I drove to meet my cousins for dinner. Were they safe havens for ducks gone astray? Perhaps a rehabilitation area for angry geese? A place for farmers to bring ugly ducklings who didn’t turn into swans?

Nothing made any sense – well, except maybe a prison for Canada geese, who can be downright annoying.

Once back at my hotel, I Googled as fast as my fingers would type. True to Google form, I had 182,000 answers in 1.04 seconds, including several YouTube videos.

Seems I’m not the only one to wonder.

I’m tempted to tell you to “Look it up,” but you might not, and that would hurt my feelings, so here’s the answer:

It’s not the waterfowl being impounded, it’s the water. North Carolina floods and drains various areas around the state for waterfowl management, providing protection to nesting birds and a place of relief and safety during hunting season. It is a wetland, swampy-type environment that is attractive to waterfowl and provides them a habitat to nest and hunt prey.

See, it’s handy knowing a journalist, even though we are, perhaps, a breed that may need our own impoundment area soon.

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