Welcome back to Magnetic North, migration central for the past month. Despite the hard freeze, gaggles of Canada geese devoured our lawn. Day after day. Frost after frost. Chowing down on the grass, still green and juicy under their blanket of fallen gold aspen leaves. And frustrating my two young domestic geese, Sophie and Olivia, by taking flight at dusk.
The wild geese were in no hurry to migrate south. Not just yet. Every day at dusk they soared high above the earth, circling the meadow and landing, loudly with trademark honks on our little pond. There to float, sleep and dream the snowbirds dream of summer.
Sophie and Olivia, my new three-month old geese, watched all this with the fascination of all youngsters. They are African geese. In my opinion, the prettiest domestic geese I’ve ever seen. Predominantly gray, with brilliant white breasts, soft honey colored beaks and feet, with black toenails and eyeliner. Their wings, when spread are easily three-feet across.
But that is just how they look. How they feel, a soft beyond soft, is their greatest feature in my book.
However, until the Canada geese showed up, Sophie and Olilvia didn’t know they were geese. How could they? Since arriving in their bread box-size bassinet in August, the two have seen only me and my yellow Lab, Zoe, plus our cat, chickens and an occasional two-legged and featherless human visitor.
And so, barring a mirror or a true biological mother, the two goslings assumed they were one of us.
Paddling on their flattened clown feet next to me and Zoe, Sophie and Olivia make their appointed rounds.
To the mailbox.
To the goat corral.
To the chicken and duck coop.
And on occasion, when the new storm door sticks open a mite too long, even into our living room. This last destination is their favorite, because it always results in our old brown tabby cat, Basket, attempting to scale the walls and perch atop the ceiling fan. A sensible move for a cat faced with a bird three times its size.
But their inner goose emerged when first the goslings saw those handsome black and white honkers. Watched them rise like super sonic jets off the lawn. When that happened, Sophie and Olivia raced on their tippy-toes toward the pond, their beautiful white and gray wings spread wide and flap-flap-flapping, and their twin voices raised in song. Well, maybe song is too strong a word for a sound that resembles an accordion with the croup.
Sadly, they succeed only in crashing into the cattail marsh, wings tangled in rotting stems. Their big feet mired in muck. And their song strangled by the bitter pill of man’s interference with evolution. My poor adolescents plodded, utterly crestfallen, uphill to the house. A sight many would find funny. But not I.
What, I ask, is harder than seeing ones young first taste failure? Especially when it is repeated daily for weeks.
I suffered for them. And so, I let the storm door stay ajar on purpose and sacrificed my poor cat so as to raise the goslings spirits.
Does this smack of anthropomorphizing? Attributing human emotions to a bird or non-human? Guilty as charged. And yet I think I know hope and despair when I see it. So what if Sophie and Olivia won’t do as we do, tucking this failure away in their cocoa puff size brains, to root and grow into a crippling neurosis? I feel their pain, however fleeting. And I know what soothes the ache. The sight of another creature having adjustment problems. Ergo, Basket to the rescue.
The largest census of honkers on our meadow and pond came to 17 birds. All chomping grass by day. Leaving their mini-cigar-shaped calling cards as they feasted. Then relaxing on the pond by night. But even as their numbers grew slowly throughout the autumn, they thinned suddenly. One day there were a dozen birds. Then six. Then the only two.
At last, even these left us. That day, the goslings burst from their straw bed in the garage, flapping out to greet their wild cousins, and finding only an empty landscape. But they took it better than I expected.
No, my fledglings assume the “easy come easy go” attitude we humans envy. Life is good for them, given a bit of grain and grass and drink. It is in part this quality of peace that attracts me. Pulls me outside to tempt them close. To touch and sometimes even hold one of them close for a time. Stroking their soft neck feathers, searching their bright amber eyes for some hint who they are and laughing as they pull gently at wisps of my hair.
This is pure joy. In fact, for me, there is no more potent nostrum for bringing about a state of peace and calm. And, at times like these, I have to admit, I am grateful they cannot fly away. And I fanciful imagine that they are as well.