I am beguiled by geese…mesmerized, enchanted, bewitched—and in no small way, smitten. For me, the sight of flying geese is a natural magic, a cast spell which instantly transforms both moment and mood.
Mostly I’m talking Canada geese. I’ve seen a few snow geese and blues, but was so thrilled by their rarity that I can’t say one way or the other whether it was the geese that caused my reaction, or the unexpectedness of the event.
Not that today’s ubiquitous Canadas were always so common. In fact, I can remember a time when a flight of Canada geese was a rare sight, so noteworthy that it would be talked about for days thereafter among neighbors, recounted at the hardware store, market, and café, and might even make the local paper.
When I was a little boy, Mom or Dad would sometimes call urgently for me to dash outside—“Hurry, Son! Hurry!” they’d cry. “The geese are coming!”
These exciting moments usually took place in spring or fall, when the birds were heading north or south in migration, following their ancient flyways, likely traveling high in the sky. Sometimes their ragged skeins contained more than a hundred birds. There wasn’t much traffic or noise back then, so you could hear the cries of the oncoming flock while they were still a long ways off. Their cries would float down as if from heaven, throaty, angelic, a voice all but disembodied from those moving cross-stitches which eventually appeared, flying almost in the clouds.
And we—my parents and I—would watch, transfixed by the sight and wonder of those passing geese…and we would continue standing there even after the birds had disappeared from view, listening, until the last sound of their passage had also faded into silence.
Perhaps that’s why I still prefer my geese to be flying. Oh, a goose on the ground is interesting enough. And I do like to see a parental pair of geese paddling around a quiet backwater, towing their little flotilla of fuzzy goslings.
But geese on the wing are what stirs my soul.
Come twilight, a ragged string of calling geese cleaving a painted sky is all the proof I’ll ever need of a creator God. Only a force far greater than man and more purposeful than chance could conceive and fashion so breathtaking a creature. There is something about those big birds on the wing that’s both holy and magnificent, a poignant glory that assails my heart like a sweet flame. I never know whether to weep with joy or shout in jubilation.
Lucky for me—lucky for all of us!—the modern history of the Canada goose is a tale of comeback. What might have been a story of unfathomable loss is now one of triumphant plenitude—too triumphant, some might mutter.
It is said Ernest Hemingway had a way with bears. He often admitted to liking bears, and bears seemingly responded in kind—at least so claim several friends who witnessed this reciprocal behavior. An Ojibway acquaintance once speculated that bears might have been his “totem animal,” a sort of kindred spirit that bridges the gap between worlds—animal and man, natural and supernatural, known and unknown.
That’s how it is with me and geese. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a string of geese veer my way, often turning from a different directional line and a fair distance away, to pass directly overhead. (And no, I know what you’re thinking…and I’ve never been “bombed” by an over-flying goose.) Sometimes they flew so low I could hear the rush of wind beneath those great heaving wings.
A skeptic might chalk such anecdotes up to mere coincidence or an overeager imagination. Could be, says the wry ornithologist, those birds were just curious as to why that burly fellow was standing on that riverbank looking up, mouth agape.
But isn't it just possible all such matters can’t be explained by science or dismissed by skepticism? Much as we like to believe otherwise, we don't yet know it all; answers by the multitudes elude us every day. There is still wonder in the world waiting to be discovered.
I do know that if I believed in reincarnation, I’d like to come back as a goose. I like the way geese talk to each other as they travel, and the way they share the lead during flights. I like how they pick their mate and stick together. They're gregarious, adventurous, boisterous, and will stand their ground if challenged. They're also regal in a flat-footed, silly way—and I like the dichotomy of that; man or goose, we should never take ourselves too seriously.
But most of all, just once, I wish to know what it’s like to lift my wings and fly up there, alongside my brethren, above the trees, in the heady grace of a painted sky.