Lone goose pipes overhead, silent V comes winging two acres behind. I edge toward a pair of Canada Geese settled under a spruce tree near the Forestry Farm parking lot, speaking in low tones to assure them I come in peace. They’re a welcome sight after another hard prairie winter. I’d like to see them closer-up, and they don’t seem to object.
I stop for a moment and wait. I imagine their perspective in high flight, how remote from human troubles they must be up there in the blue. I tell them that I myself fly sometimes in dreams, and may have a glimmer of what it’s like. One night I sailed up to the spire of a cathedral, and looked over a dark panorama, and far below the lights of the chancery blushed, and two priests went in and shut them off.
I take another step, and wait again. I remember one spring on a muddy path beside the river hearing the resounding ke-CHUNK of an ice-shard breaking and plunging into the water. A goose that was resting on it swished with its wings, rose slightly in the air, shifted two feet over and alighted again. I marvelled at the nonchalance. If you have wings and your bottom falls out, lift and re-settle.
One more step, another pause. The gander grooms himself. The goose tucks her head down beside her wing. Last year above the riverbank I saw a gaggle of geese on a sandbar. I followed a path down and sat near them to watch. A narrow channel of water separated us, so I was of no concern to them, but they quickly detected the two humans coming through the willows at the sandbar’s far end. The lead goose grunted and slid into the river. Three others followed. Within minutes the whole flotilla was facing the breeze. I love their ascensions – and they rose for me and the world was a wild winging honk-a-lonking, divine moment all full of geese.
Another step. Halfway to the tree now. The gander looks my way, and I linger again.
I have seen geese on the river angling toward a rocky weir on an island, where a hidden brood of goslings waited, and heard how they sat then, trumpeting in the joy of being home. Behold the fowls of the air, they navigate wind and water currents beyond fathoming, and die without protest into human ears…
…and suddenly this gander hurtles toward me hissing, I stumble back, and he’s airborne straight for my head; I whirl and bolt, trip on the pavement, rear up and lurch toward the car peering over my shoulder; the creature lands and stretches his neck like a viper, and my skinned palms and knees begin throbbing, and I see that I’ve torn a hole in my new jeans.
Yes, a Hindu parable says, God is in the elephant coming toward you – but also in the mahout sitting on the elephant and shouting, Get out of the way, dodo!
Ganderdander, I have learned, is God’s voice drawing a line: So far, buster, and no farther.
© Lloyd Ratzlaff
Branta canadensis, our namesake goose, is indeed “a welcome sight after another hard prairie winter.” Photo by Alan Schmierer, Creative Commons licence.
Did you know ..
Before we know it, the skies will be filled with bright skeins of geese. On their joyful, honking return in the spring, they sometimes cover as much as 2,400 kilometres a day. They choose mates when they are two or three years old and stay with the same partner for lif(if they are lucky for more than 20 years.) The females incubate the clutch of eggs while the male guards and defends the nest. Goslings are able to swim and dive when they are only one day old. They stay with their parents for their first summer and often head south with them. More cool info here.
Author: Lloyd Ratzlaff
Lloyd Ratzlaff has written three books of literary nonfiction published by Thistledown Press, and contributed to anthologies including The Eye in the Thicket; Sons and Mothers: Stories From Mennonite Men; and Reading the River: A Traveller’s Companion to the North Saskatchewan River. The prairies have been his lifelong home and teacher. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org