Just about every day of my life, with very few exceptions, I drive between my house and our little village along Engleville Road. I’m glad it’s still Engleville Road. It is, after all, the road that leads to Engleville. During the deployment of modern 9-1-1 addressing systems, some roads had their names changed. Some lost the identity they’d had for the past one hundred, one hundred-fifty, or two hundred years. Two hundred years ago, in 1820, there was one main route that led from the closest water- the Cobleskill and Schoharie Creeks which connect to the Mohawk River- and on westward overland on the corduroy road called Loonenburg Turnpike. Modern times crossed it with New York State Highway 10, Route 145, my own county route, Engleville Road; and Loonenburg Pike was dissected into short sections.
Curiously, for the longest time, there were three or four “roads” referred to as Loonenburg Turnpike. The road to Engleville Pond was called, not unnaturally, Engleville Pond Road. Now it is called “Mill Pond Road”. Still fitting, as Engleville Pond began as Engle’s mill pond. The Loonenburg Pike, however, acquired several new names for its multiple sections. “Stagecoach Road” for one part and the plain label “Turnpike Road” at another. Progress, I suppose.
Back to Engleville. Along the flats by Mahar’s swamp, across from the turkey farm, runs a little creek that wends its way beside the road. You can see it behind the Kennedys’ house where their lawn ends at the edge of the mucky swampland. Here is where I spotted the goose. A Canada Goose, in spring, stopping off on his trek northward past lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River, and on to Hudson’s Bay. Geese mate for life, but this mature bird, we’ll presume it’s a male, floated alone on the little branch creek.
I’m a big fan of nature, and all forms of wildlife. Migratory and seasonal birds a particular excitement due to the brevity of their passing, or the knowledge they may be here today and gone tomorrow. Some will stay for the short summer; hummingbirds and yellowthroats, then move south when the frosts begin and the meadows go to seed. Some will arrive with the winter solstice. What we see as cold January and ski season, they see as a warmer climate than the taiga and the tundra from which they’ve shifted. Snowy Owls and Dark-Eyed Juncos and White-Crowned Sparrows. During most years, a few pairs of Canada Geese make nests around the ponds locally. So the first time I saw Goose, I thought nothing more than “Oh, look at the pretty goose. I should stop to take a photo.”, and rambled off to my busy, adventure-filled life.
The next day, I saw Goose again. He was in the same spot. A sort of quiet pocket about twenty-five feet long, where the theree-foot-wide creek rounds a turn between sumac saplings and marsh grasses. He was still alone. No flock, nor any other geese on this small patch of water. It occurred to me he seemed to be waiting. Not exactly the nervous pacing of the expectant father from 1950’s movies. Still, there seemed a certain vigilance. It got me to thinking that maybe he is waiting for his mate. Maybe it’s not so unusual to get separated, and to wait at a familiar place to reunite. Perhaps this is their nesting destination, or maybe they stop here for rest on every migration.
The flyways are filled with these places. Rivers, lakes, marshes and cliffs that have indelibly inscribed themselves on that magical machine called instinct. Like the swallows of Capistrano fame, these places have offered brief respite for weary winged travelers for eons. Hawk-watchers and Crane-photographers wait eagerly at these spots to view the awesome and wondrous spectacle of thousands- or tens of thousands of birds in a single place. Decorating the beaches or filling the river marshes and swamps with milling and calls and eruptions in brilliant colors into the sky, to the tune of twenty thousand beating wings.
Perhaps for “my goose”, this was that familiar place. Something deep in his mind spoke to him when he saw silvery West Creek wandering its way to Hanson’s Crossing. The pumpkin fields of Parson’s Farm, dotted with oranges and whites and just a touch of green. The round bales waiting for a ride, scattered across the hills and dales of hay fields. The cornfields, alternately standing tall, tanned and dried; or shaved to stubble, a goose’s favorite snack bar. From the sky he could see the isolated Corporation Pond at the top of the hill, feeding into the big, road-rimmed and well-visited twenty-acre Engleville Pond below. See the thin ribbon of water as it traces its meandering course from Maggie’s Pond, weaving its way through our own Wonder Woods before continuing on to the horse farm, two miles hence. One by one these landmarks lead him north from Vroman’s Nose and west from Settles Mountain until he sees that old faithful trickle of water awaiting him.
Little of the aforementioned occurred to me that first day. A pretty goose, then on to the next thing. On the second day, there he sat. Or floated, I should say. It was then I began to think of all this, the life of a migratory bird, the separation of the pairs, the devotion, dedication and patience shown by Goose, waiting steadfastly. What vivid Disneyesque dreams I dreamed of his wringing hands (if he had them) and checking his watch (if he wore one). His story takes on the hues of personification. First the waiting dogs him, then anxiousness helps to mask rational fears. Again, my world goes rolling past Goose with little more than a savored glance, a recognition and remark. “Such a cute goose.”
Driving home, perhaps weary from my own migrations, perhaps seeking my own landmarks of comfort and familiarity, I saw Goose. Still waiting for a third day. Now my child-like mind and over-active imagination began to wonder, to speculate on Goose’s story.
I am keenly observant, immersed in the world of wildlife of all kinds, and birds particularly. I consider them to be amazing little marvels gifted to us by this Cosmos. Motions and colors, sounds and behaviors. Sometimes mesmerizing, like a hovering hummingbird. Sometimes comical, like the starlings at the feeder. Sometimes awe-inspiring, striking me dumb, as murmurings of a thousand starlings dance through the sky as one moving, living flying mass. Or great V’s of Canada Geese, silhouetted against an October sunset, as they honk their way across my horizons.
I try to empathize with birds. I imagine them flying over the bizarre, invasive, intrusive, noisy unnatural and potentially lethal haunts of man. I have logged too many hours reading Audubon, Nature and The Conservationist to think the lives of geese are natural and peaceful. Like so many of nature’s most fragile creations, their intersection with humankind rarely has a positive outcome. Blacktop and highways, cars and trucks screaming past at seventy miles per hour. Towers, buildings, cranes and windmills, crowding the very skies that were once a domain reserved only for the winged. Oil spills in the waters. Plastics on the beaches. Neonicotinoids in the seeds stolen from farm fields. Massive light islands that appear as bright as the moon to migratory birds in the night. Without exaggeration, their bodies are collected by the hundreds where they fall to their deaths at the bases of skyscrapers and bridges.
Now my accursed brain links together these two worlds. The wild goose in the cool, crystal waters behind Kennedy’s, and the world of man, which may have taken his mate. I love my imagination when it is good, but curse it when it is too good. When it imagines possibilities I’d rather be spared from.
She may have been struck by the grill of a tractor trailer moving faster than she can fly, as she tried to cross the highway from one impoundment to the next. She may have flown head-first, at top speed in the dark of night, into a building or a wind turbine, breaking her neck. She may have mistaken for a gentle pool the toxic, tar-like mess which is a catch basin for the petroleum refinery. Once plunged into this sticky, poisonous muck, she will be lucky to get out with her life, and even then will be cleaning feathers for weeks before she can take to the air. Several lives ago, I myself was secreted in a blind with a shotgun, awaiting mourning doves to shoot on the wing. What a terrible narrative it might be to finish this thought in the context of Lone Goose waiting devotedly in Engleville for his mate to join him.
Alright! Alright! I remind myself I’m launching on another anti-man rant. There are plenty of natural threats to a goose even without mankind’s incursions. A fierce hurricane can blow whole flocks off course, or carry them out to sea, perhaps beyond their point of no return. Alligators in the swamps and bayous of the south. Bobcats, panthers, pumas, even house cats, all along the route. The sly fox. The hungry coyote. Everyone must eat to live. Nature is true to her scale, and a loss here is a gain there. It’s a big world out there, life is a circle.
Lone Goose evokes images of the waiting. In Portland, Maine, a silent statue stares out across the vast Atlantic Ocean, mourning for those “…who go down to the sea in ships.” At the mouth of the Savannah River, a young maiden holds aloft a kerchief, signaling for her beloved with whom she will never be rejoined. Outside a subway station in Japan, a bronze cast of a little dog that came each day to greet his master. His presence there, alone until dark each day after his master passed, inspired this monument to undying devotion.
I lost track of the days. Maybe it was three or four. Perhaps a week. One evening, on my way home from the turbulent and intrusive world of man to my own little patch of Heaven, I saw the shallow branch creek behind Kennedy’s to be empty. No goose.
The true end of Lone Goose’s story will forever remain a mystery. But a story without an ending is a bane to a writer. This can go either way now in the imaginative mind of a sentimental, childish, maybe slightly crazy old author. Real, grown-up world of man can conjure up those dark thoughts that might be the final chapter. She was shot by a hunter, or hit by a truck, or killed by the unlit vanes of a wind farm or ambushed by a fox as he waited and waited. Since it is fiction, I shall pull my quill from the Pollyanna well, and construct the ending I’d prefer.
Instincts began to whisper in his ear after several days. Unable to understand these feelings within, he is unable to will himself to move on. She is missing, and life was at a standstill until this condition would pass. He watched flock after flock of his cousins heading north, getting on with their geese lives. He was compelled by the warming days, the nearly-imperceptible travel of sunrise, drifting slowly northward at each dawn.
Time and tide wait for no goose.
It would be the evening of the sixth day. Goose has no knowledge of all those things that raced around my mind. Only a strange feeling that something is missing. Something is different. Perhaps forever. Goose knows only the signs of the Earth. The lengthening days. A call deep within his heart and soul to complete this annual trek despite all difficulties and disappointments.
Mother Nature calls to him in her gentlest Mother voice. The most soothing voice she knows. She has practice, as she has had to tell this to more than one Lone Goose, or Right Whale or Red Wolf.
“I’m sorry, precious one, for your unsettled feelings, your lost-ness, your losses. This too shall pass. It’s time to go now.”
Lone Goose pauses, and looks around once more. With reluctant resolve, he points into the headwind. A flock above invites him to join them. To share company and fellowship in a world that can make company and fellows vanish without explanation or trace. He stretches his wings, prepares to leave this once-welcoming refuge. “Their” swamp.
At the last moment, he hears a call ring out from the passing birds. Out of tens of thousands of Canada Geese in the Atlantic Flyway, he is unmistaken in his identification.
It was she.
Take care and keep in touch,