Is there another sound in the natural world that so catches in the throat and heart as the call of the Canada Goose? Don’t feel the same way about geese? It’s silly to you? Allow me to share this story and see if you feel the same afterwards. However, if you have ever experienced a touching and bonding moment with a goose like I have, then you may already know what I mean.
Last night I heard the unmistakable sound of approaching Fall and Winter. I heard the sound of geese. It’s the same time every year – right after the Autumnal Equinox. Now, I’m sure you hear geese all the time where you are, but where I am, they seem to stay for a very long time. You see, I live near one of the greatest migratory paths in North America: The Atlantic Flyway. It extends from the coast of Florida to the coast of Maine and beyond in both directions. Major waterways and wetlands along the flyway are essential for the survival of these birds as they need to stop and refuel. Some don’t fly the whole way, but find a place to set up a temporary residence. Right in the middle of this US Atlantic Flyway is the Chesapeake Bay – a popular place for these temporary residences. The Bay and its tributaries see a lot of geese throughout the Fall. They either stay the entire season or leave as soon as another flock replaces them. It’s hard to tell as there is always a large flock around making a racket.
So when I say I heard them last night, it’s not just a “fly-by-night” sort of thing (forgive me). I live right on one of these tributaries, and I will be listening to them all night every night. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. I love nature – especially the sounds they make. But some nights it cracks me up as it seems like they are having a rowdy party till very late. I am always amazed by these creatures, these gorgeous, and complex creatures.
There was one time, a few years ago, that brought me closer to these geese than I could’ve imagined. This is what happened.
As usual a flock of geese arrived in late September to the lake in the backyard. Every year the flocks keep to themselves and randomly visit the hill where I live in search for food. I had never seen any of them take up residence on my property, except once. Two geese, male and female, kept themselves away from the rest and lived under a bush near the water line in my backyard. Every day I noticed the two of them coming and going from the same spot. Other geese, when on my lawn, would fly away every time they heard me open the back door. But not this particular couple. Mr. and Mrs. Goose would always watch the others freak out, then turn their heads to look back at me, move closer to where I was and then continue feeding. Sometimes, if all “intruding” geese didn’t fly off, the couple would run and honk at the stragglers until only the couple remained. It was as if they thought I belonged to them and couldn’t be shared with any other geese. With each quiet observation of this couple my amusement and fondness for them grew.
On several occasions, as I drove into my neighborhood heading home, I would witness a couple of geese waddling along the side of the road. At first I didn’t realized they were “my” geese until after I had parked and gotten out of my car. I would then notice Mr. and Mrs. Goose coming up the road behind me and make their way back to there area by the lake. This happened enough times to make me firmly believe they were waiting for me to return home.
On other occasions, I would notice that when ever there was a commotion out on the lake (usually due to irresponsible boaters) the couple would face each other and “talk.” Watching them I realized they were having serious conversations. About what I couldn’t guess.
The biggest surprise was that they weren’t afraid of me, not in the least. If I was sitting on the edge of the deck, they would be walking around the deck talking happily to each other. If I got up to leave, they would simply move over so that I could walk by. They usually followed me off, too. If I was sitting in a chair on the lawn, they would come within a couple of feet of me and feed. If I moved suddenly they might look up to see what I was doing, but they would never get “spooked” like other geese would.
And so it went. They were my outdoor buddies. The only “people” I could be quiet around and not expect me to speak. I looked forward to seeing them every day. I loved their company, but most of all, I loved their devotion to each other. I had once read that geese mate for life. Watching these two, I believed it.
That season the two of them stayed all winter and into the spring. In early April they made a nest in their lakeside bush. I could see the female sitting on the nest whenever I sat nearby. The male clearly stood guard the entire time. A groundhog that had lived under our hill for years (near the waterline and near the “goose bush”) had never been an issue before for Mr. Goose until now. Whenever the groundhog, or even a squirrel for that matter, came anywhere within 10 feet of the bush, Mr. Goose would make a terrible racket and chase away the “intruder” regardless of said intruder’s intentions. This went on every single day for weeks.
One day when I went outside to catch my daily dose of nature and the “Goose Show” Mr. Goose was in his usual spot, but all kinds of wildlife had liberty of the entire yard. Nothing was being chased away. I watched for a long time. Mr. Goose stood where he was the entire time. I didn’t like the look of that. The next day, and the next, it was the same thing. Mr. Goose stood without purpose next to the bush and barely cared what was around him.
Feeling like something was wrong, I walked out to where he was and sat down. He didn’t come to me, but merely glanced in my direction. For the first time I spoke, “What’s wrong, buddy?” He looked at me again and this time I noticed what seemed like intense sadness. It’s not something I can explain, but I felt it as much as I saw it. My heart felt like it had stopped. Never in my dreams could I imagine such an emotion visible on an animal such as a goose. I immediately felt an overwhelming sense of dread and panic set in. I looked towards the bush to see if I could see Mrs. Goose. I couldn’t. I walked closer to get a better look, half expecting Mr. Goose to get pissed off at my forwardness. He didn’t care. Then I saw the nest. It was still there, but there was a bit of broken shell and many feathers strewn about – a clear sign of a struggle. (Most likely from a raccoon or similar regular night-stalker). I surprised myself when I instantly had a lump in my throat and tears immediately flowed from my eyes. I felt profound sadness for Mr. Goose, and it was clear he didn’t know what to do with himself. I had read, once, that geese mourn their dead. Watching Mr. Goose, I believed it.
A few days later Mr. Goose was gone. I don’t know where he went or what happened to him, but I never saw him again.
Every year, shortly after the Autumnal Equinox, the sounds of Canada Geese calling as they arrive brings back memories of “my” geese. Their sounds remind me of how amazing these creatures truly are.