By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

Imagine the setting of a lush 40-acre ranch near Lake Earl. An old barn, a white picket fence around the house, some dogwood trees in bloom and a burbling stream.

Thats where little Bailee Jones met three wild Canada geese who have been her loyal friends for the last year. In the 40 years her great-grandparents, Tom and Irene Grice, have lived on the ranch, they say theyve never seen anything like it.

I just cant hardly figure how theyre more friendly than our ducks, Irene Grice said.

Its plain to see the wild birds arent typical as they walk right up to visitors, eyeing them with a friendly curiosity. These geese are not really pets, either. Grice said they frequent other Fort Dick ranches and are free to go when they like, even though her home seems to be their favorite.

Jones is 3 years old. During the week, her great-grandparents have babysitting duty while Jones parents are at work.

She just loves to visit with them. She pets them and they talk to her. Even when she was real little, they would follow her around, tugging at her diaper, said Grice.

Her theory is the three geese were born on her ranch and that something happened to their mother. Grice spotted the young birds near the stream by the house and theyve known the ranch as home since then.

They were born and raised here. If you leave the door open, theyll come right in, Grice said, but she doesnt allow it.

One male of the bunch has found another home nearby with his new mate. Grice said he has quite a few new friends who follow him when he comes to visit the old homestead.

I can tell its him, because hell circle over with his friends talking to us all the while, she said.

But, the original three birds seem to have a special attachment to three-year-old Jones.

Last week, customers standing outside the Fort Dick Market noticed a honking, singing flock circling overhead. Jones parents, Chris and Amanda Jones, own a house beside the market where Bailee was playing in the yard at the time.

Chris called over here and said, Grandma, are the geese over there? And I looked out and said no and he said, well, this must be them over here. They were just flying over and must have seen Bailee. They had come down to play with her and they even spent the night over there. They didnt come back until about six oclock the next morning, Grice said with her native Arkansas drawl.

The Grices have kept dairy cattle on their Lake Earl ranch since 1968. Irene Grice said she milked the cows in their old barn for a good 17 years. She said now that the waters of Lake Earl have saturated the pasture, and that shes getting up in years, the cows have been sold off.

She doesnt seem to regret the way her life has changed, however, as she watches and laughs at her great-granddaughter and her feathered friends.

It just makes you wonder if they will ever go off and migrate or if theyll become regular old Del Norters, Grice said.