Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Old Gray Goose

We used to have two geese. They were always together. They swam around the pond together. They waddled up the hill and pooped on our sidewalk and lawn together. They honked in harmony in the middle of the night. They took turns dipping their long necks into the feed bucket. They got rather playful in the pond occasionally. (Daddy, the geese are trying to drown each other!)

One day, I noticed they hadn't eaten their food. When I stopped to think about it, I didn't remember seeing them at all in the previous few days. The next day, my wife and little boy put on their boots and went looking for them. Their was still snow on the ground, so they followed two sets of goose prints up the hill from the far end of the pond, through a hay field, and down into another nearby pond. And they found the geese.

One was dead. The other was standing by her body, which was in the water near the shore.

All that day and the next, the remaining goose stayed by its mate, swimming around the smaller pond. He never came back to eat, and we worried he'd starve.

That's when I finally sucked it up and did my duty as the man of the house. I put on a pair of gloves, grabbed a big black trash bag, and collected the dead goose. The other honked at me, but stayed behind as I carried his companion away. (Domestic geese are pretty heavy, by the way.)

I found a patch of dry ground and dug a grave. It was about a foot wide, two feet long, and as deep as my arm is long. With my wife and kids and one of my daughter's friends watching, I dumped the dead goose out of the bag and into the hole. No one cried. The real mourner was still by the other pond, mourning. There's a small mound of dirt to mark the grave, and that's all. The other goose has no idea what it is.

So, life went on. The remaining goose came back and ate. But he kept wandering around the hay field, honking plaintively. I got the distinct impression that he felt lost, like the world had changed and nothing looked the same anymore. One day his mate lay down and never got up. Then she disappeared completely.

The widower took up a new residence by our neighbors'—my wife's parents—back door. I still fed him in the usual spot down by the pond, but he spent most of his time and even slept by that back door. They scared him away, but he always came back. No one knew why.

The other day we finally figured it out. There's a full length window by that door. It's covered with the traces of goose kisses. He wandered past one day and saw a goose in that window, dim and trapped behind cold glass, and found the missing part of his life. He stayed there because he thought she was there, out of reach, but within sight.

My father-in-law covered the window with cardboard, but it didn't work. He found an old window pane and covered the back with black plastic. He set it up down by the pond, next to the food bucket. Our lonely goose spends his time down there, now. 

Sometimes he follows the wild ducks around the pond. Sometimes he waddles up the hill onto our lawn. He honks solo in the middle of the night. The food lasts twice as long. And he falls asleep in front of an old window pane.

6 comments:

  1. This was so heartbreaking and lovely. Just...wow, Ben!

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  2. I didn't know... This make me really sad!

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  3. That's so sad. Maybe if you get a new goose friend it would help :(

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  4. I couldn't even edit this post because it was making me cry. (Told you I'm a crybaby.) I'm not sure, but I think it's because the goose acts just like a little child who doesn't understand death.

    I suggested to our oldest daughter that she try to make friends with the goose, which has always stayed away from us. She wasn't too keen at first, but changed her mind and started trying yesterday.

    Our neighbors who gave us the geese in the first place lost all of theirs last winter.

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  5. This reminds me of that old song, Go Tell Aunt Rhodie. Does that song strike anyone else as really depressing for a lullaby?

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