Our wild geese

In his column, We can still be thankful regardless of 2020 (On my mind, Keizertimes, Nov. 20)) publisher Lyndon Zaitz reflected upon an observation when he was able to set aside the rancor and stress of our current times and let, if for only a moment, nature render its magic. 

He watched the wild geese flying overhead and more importantly, noticed that another person had also stopped to watch and listen. Like people, geese are social beings and their noisy appearance can touch a person’s soul. If you let it.

Wild geese are durable, enduring, strong, purposeful and totally in tune with the seasons. As individuals, they are selfless, vigilant, and protective of each other and their flock and will, without hesitation, die defending their mate, their nest, and young. 

Yes, they can be a nuisance in parks, golf courses, and even destructive to some farm fields. But if we can abide this aspect of their nature, there is much to enjoy in the sight and sound of the geese as they fly back and forth between the fields where they feed and loaf at local waterways like Staats Lake where they spend their nights in safety on the water.  

Except for a few year ‘round residents, the truly wild geese, including the small Cackling Canada Goose subspecies, depart for the far north during early May. You can tell when departure time is getting close as they congregate in large flocks and become very vocal as if excited in anticipation of the trip to north of the Arctic Circle. And then suddenly they are gone and the quiet of summer without the presence of the geese descends upon us. They spend the short summer season of the far north nesting and raising their young. As soon as the young are flying strongly, they turn around and begin the trip southward to their favorite wintering areas, escaping the onset of the brutal Arctic winter.

They begin to arrive back in Keizer in September. “Right on time” you might say as they are creatures of habit and there is no mistaking their return. The long noisy lines of geese announce their arrival as if with great joy in the success of their journey.  Perhaps you also have been listening for and anticipating their return with some sense of excitement. In a world where there seems to be so little to depend on, you can depend on the geese. They are reliable.

There is something about their distant calls when flying high and direct in the night that can bring a smile and a sense of wonder. If we let it. Is it their wildness and freedom that spark our imagination? Do we wish that we could find life as purposeful and ordered as is theirs where the “what, when and where” is always known and without so many questions?

As for that occasional single bird that is flying alone and not with the flock: its quiet calls are for a lost mate and reflect grief and loneliness. Geese mate for life and when one of a pair is lost it can take considerable time before the survivor rejoins a flock and perhaps finds a new mate. It is known that if one goose of a pair falls from the air for whatever reason, its mate will circle back to find it, often to its own detriment. 

If you listen to and watch the geese, you can be reminded that there still are remnants of all that is wild and free and of life being lived for all of the right reasons. Listen to the geese. They are wise.

(Jim Parr lives in Keizer.)