To most living in the US, the Canada goose is as common as house flies and twice as annoying. They are widely held to be a public menace
, descending in riotous hordes on golf courses
and man-made lakes, leaving messy, runny turds
scattered everywhere, and acting on inexplicable urges to block your car door, hissing like adders and thrashing their heavy wings menacingly. However, thanks to a peculiar twist of fate
, I've learned to appreciate the Canada goose and its eccentricities.
Two years ago, I moved to St. Louis, Missouri from Western NY and spent a great deal of my time staring disconsolately out windows at the unbearable heat outside. My family and I were industriously uncovering our house’s little quirks that the real estate agent had so cleverly forgotten to call to our attention, such as a leak in the upstairs toilet, the various fire code violations, and the wall in the downstairs bathroom that was decidedly not square. So it was really no surprise to us when the neighbors informed us that the pair of geese trumpeting on our rooftop every morning was an annual event. My father, who is a great foe of various household nuisances (he’d conducted quite the war against a squirrel, in his day, but that’s another story), would wake up early every morning, snuffling foully, and shout angrily at the birds. This was a great source of amusement to the neighborhood children, but it was also completely ineffective. So we all resigned ourselves to being awakened at dawn by raucous honks and the scrabble of webbed feet on the shingles.
When I came home from school one spring day, my mother urgently motioned me into the family room. Royally confused, I looked out the window where she pointed. Sitting there, in the dazzling pink light streaming through the waxy magnolia petals, was one of the geese. She bent her head to tuck it under a wing, her long, flexible neck arching smoothly over her dusty-colored back, fast asleep on her downy nest. It was the most lovely, peaceable image I’d seen in ages. The honking, hissing, and hanging around our house clicked into mental place, and the two of us eagerly pressed out faces to the window. Eventually, she woke, groomed her feathers, and arranged the magnolia petals around the nest.
When my father came home that evening and was eating dinner, we told of the discovery. He gave us a long-suffering look and said, “Why on earth are you guys so excited? All that’s happening is that more of the stupid things are coming into existence…” My mother shook her head sadly and pointed a fork at him. “Because it’s so unusual. And, quite frankly, adorable.” My father did not reply, but turned back to his lasagna in a thoroughly foul mood.
So the goose stayed. After a while, my mother and I concluded that it was ridiculous to keep calling her “the goose” and searched for a name. We exhausted many possibilities, before decided on “Mabel”. This was a suitably gentle, amiable-sounding name for her, as she was always careful and quiet, as opposed to the screaming gander. Whether Mabel ever noticed us staring avidly through the window at her, I don’t know, but she certainly didn’t ever seem frightened. Twice a day she would stand up and carefully, cautiously, turn the smooth, creamy-white eggs. We tried to guess their number, but they were so buried in down and crushed magnolia petals that we couldn’t be very accurate. Every once in a while, the gander would flap up to the garden bed where the nest was situated and give a series of sky-splitting honks. This evidently caused Mabel some confusion, as she responded in odd, guttural little murmuring noises. We never saw her leave the nest for food, which caused my mother and I great anxiety (to the incredulous amusement of my father), but she seemed to be healthy enough.
One day, while checking up on her before I left for school, I noticed a small, yellow, fluffy ball under her wing. With a rush of giddy excitement, I got my mother and we watched as seven tiny chicks tumbled out from under Mabel’s wing and into the flower bed. They stumbled about for a while, Mabel clucking softly and herding them carefully around her, before being urged back into the nest by her beak. That afternoon, arriving home from school, we were greeted by a hideous volley of honks. Terrified that something was happening to the goslings, we ran to the window. Mabel had stood up and was nudging her babies out of the flower bed and into the lawn. The gander was trumpeting proudly. She navigated the clumsy brood onto the driveway, pausing every now and then for them to catch up. They fell into a crooked line behind her, scurrying and falling and hopping over each other. Eventually, the procession went down the sidewalk and turned the corner, the gander screaming the whole time.
It seems that the neighbors were right in saying that Mabel’s arrival was annual. She came back this year, hatched another batch, and left in the same way. It’s hard to explain the sort of happy amazement you get when an animal chooses your home to raise its young. The opportunity to watch the natural process in detail is rare indeed, and even though you know the animal simply came to you because you had a nice, sheltered corner, you connect and feel chosen. I have rather a fondness for geese now, despite their bothersome habits. Even my father chuckles (albeit ruefully) at the mention of Mabel. It’s hard to share your home with 2 geese and 7 goslings without learning to love them, at least a bit.