Alive, well, and living on Long Island

In a recent comment,
my father asked for an update on the
goose
that made
its nest outside the offices of the American Institute of Physics. I have been
meaning to write a summary of my experience with that goose, and this seemed
as good a time as any to finally do it. What follows is sort of a diary of
my observations. If any of my words concerning the goose seem harsh, please
keep in mind that I was an unemployed expectant father at the time and had
some stresses of my own to deal with.


Monday | April 11
| 2005

There was a goose in front of the office building when I got to work this
morning. I’m a little afraid of geese because they’re big enough to inflict
serious
bodily damage, but they’re still birds, which means you would
feel guilty if you kicked one. It’s a no-win situation for a mammal like me.
Anyway,
this
goose
was standing
to the left of some steps I needed to descend, so I passed him as far to the
right as I could. He paid no attention, which was fine with me.

At lunchtime, I went out to my car to get some change for a coke. I had my
head down as I walked down the steps, so I didn’t notice goose until
I was barely three feet away from him—close enough so that he could fracture
my right kneecap with the flick of an appendage. I kept walking purposefully,
but he had me in his sights. He stared viciously, then thrust his head forward
like a snake and hissed. I did not know until then that a bird was capable
of hissing. It scared me a little, but I kept walking and he left me alone.
A man who was loitering outside the building chuckled and said, "You walked
past his nest."

I turned around and saw that, sure enough, in the bed of greenery that bordered
the steps sat another goose, presumably on some eggs. A mental image formed
in my mind of the two geese searching for a good nesting location. The gander
sees this tidy little spot and says, "There’s the place. That’s
where we make our nest." The female replies gently, "Honey, it’s
kind of far from the water, don’t you think? And all that concrete surrounding
it might mean that humans will be around after the weekend is over. Why don’t
we try to find something a little closer to the beach?" The gander insists, "No,
no. This is the spot. The bushes and the trees are pretty. The ocean’s
just a couple of miles away. If any snakes come hunting eggs, we’ll see
them slithering long before they get close enough to do anything. And there
aren’t any people around. Don’t you worry your pretty little head.
I’ve got it all taken care of." So the female respects her mate
and—against every instinct she has—lays her eggs in that place.

And
two days later the gander is hissing at me. What a moronic bird.

Tuesday | April 12 | 2005

I hate that stupid goose. I want to hate him for his gall and his sense
of entitlement, but I don’t think that’s his problem. I think he knows he’s
in over his head. I think he knows he can’t protect his nest, his mate, or
his
eggs
from
the
thousands of humans he sees every day. I think he’s terrified all the way
down to the webbing between his toes, and there’s nothing he can do about it.
He stands
at the top of the steps daring anyone to pass within reach of his club-like
wings, trying with all his might to intimidate everyone with his aggressive
glare that he hopes veils his debilitating insecurity. He
knows
he
has
humiliated his
mate
and
is
unworthy of
her devotion. He knows he has been found lacking as a father even before
his goslings have seen the
sky,
but he
also
knows he
must
carry
on even though he’s doomed to failure. It angers him, and there’s no fixing
it, no forgiveness, no reconciliation, because he himself is the one he blames,
and rightly so. I just wish he wouldn’t
take it out on the world around him.

I don’t resent him for thinking he has the right to inhabit that spot—I
despise him for putting his family in an impossible situation. But I also feel
a little sorry for him.

Wednesday | April 13 | 2005

I can’t despise the goose any more. He’s just too pitiful. The constant stress
and self doubt have snapped some vital part of his brain. This morning he was
wandering around the courtyard spreading his wings and pecking at the air,
where I have no doubt
he saw a legion of invisible enemies. When I left, he was pecking
a parked car, vigorously defending his nest against a ghoulish reflection of
himself in the red door panel. His poor mate dutifully sat on the eggs all
day, facing
a bush so
she wouldn’t have
to meet
the stares
of passers-by.

Thursday | April 14 | 2005

When I got to work this morning, I didn’t see the gander at first. The female
was still sitting on the nest, but he had curled himself up in the middle of
the courtyard so that he looked more like
a
pile of feathers than a bird. He seemed to be inhabiting a mental dimension
somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, his body vibrating with a tension
that would not let him go, his head barely tucked beneath his wing. Four days
of unrelenting fear had pushed him to the brink. I couldn’t tell if he was
fighting for his sanity or accepting his decline into oblivion. I couldn’t
concentrate all day for worrying about him.

When I walked to my car at the end of the day, the goose was more relaxed
than he’s been all week. He was sauntering around the nest, alternately pecking
at bugs on the ground and exchanging some sort of goose communications with
the female, who had turned her back to the bush and faced the world for the
first time. I noticed that someone had placed a bowl of water and a bowl of
what I took to be goose food beside the nest. It’s amazing what one simple
act of kindness can do.

Friday | April 15 | 2005

The female’s mortification has transformed into honor.
The gander’s insecurity is now humility, his braggadocio now true confidence.
Today he strutted around nodding his head to people as they passed by (though
I may have imagined that), and I think if he could have handed out cigars he
would have. The female still sat on the nest, so I don’t think the goslings
have hatched, but the time is definitely drawing near. My stint at this office
as a temp ends today. Though I will not miss the job, I will be sorry to miss
the birth of the baby geese.

Monday | May 16 | 2005

I drove by the old office today to see if the geese were still there. They
seem to have abandoned the nest, but I found them less than a block away looking
like a real family. The female was sitting under the shade of tree with two
fuzzy, yellow goslings nestled against her side. The gander looked on proudly
from a few feet away. Not even a sparrow falls without God knowing it, and
He certainly took care of this goose family. Even so, I bet next time they
build a nest, they’ll find a place far away from sidewalks.

One thought on “Alive, well, and living on Long Island

  1. Except for cute fuzzy goslings, geese on Long Island make me think of one thing: watching where I step in parks and nature preserves.

    Kudos on capturing a warmer POV and a lesson in nature.