Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
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Saturday, May 3, 2008

Funeral March for a Goose

Playing in the background: Karunesh, "Moon Temple" from Zen Breakfast (thanks, Kellum!)
Miles rode on the ol' bike today: About 15

I slept late, on purpose, and missed my morning swim. Instead I decided to head out on my bike for a ride around White Rock Lake, our urban oasis. It's about three miles from my house, all downhill, and somewhere between nine and twelve miles around depending on which way you go. And then three miles back, all uphill. Sometimes I have Joan come rescue me but I was endeavoring to avoid that today.

Anyway, I just arrived at the park and was heading south on the trail when I came across a flock of geese. Or is it a gaggle of geese? I'm not sure. A whole bunch of geese, anyway. They were standing in the middle of the road with their heads thrown back and kind of howling. Honking. Whatever.

I came to a stop because I'm a little afraid of geese. One of our neighbors used to have three of 'em and man, you did not want to piss them off. They're big birds (probably at least 30 pounds) and they have big beaks. They also have nasty tempers. So I pulled over, wondering why in hell they were all out in the middle of the road like that, and then I saw a single goose, dead, sprawled in the roadway.

Cars do come down this road, but not very often, so I'm not sure if this guy got hit by a car, or what. He wasn't all that damaged, apart from part of his neck. One wing was stuck up in the air and appeared to be moving so my first thought was that he might still be alive. I got a little closer (see above re: afraid of geese; I was being brave) but once I saw his eyes I could tell he was gone. (She? I dunno.) The wing was moving in the wind, that was all.

Then I looked back at the flock. They were still at it. Heads up, necks extended, honking at the sky. Once in a while one would look over at me, or at the dead guy. Then they went right back to their honking. Or howling. It was more like howling.

I didn't know what to do. The longer they all stood there in the road, the more likely it was that another one would get hit. I didn't want to just leave but even less did I want to move the dead goose out of the road. What if they all attacked me? (Once again, see above re: afraid of geese.) They were obviously upset. Okay, yes, they're birds, and I'm not a bird so how can I know they were upset. Well, you're not me, so you can't know whether or not I know the birds were upset, and trust me, they were upset. I got the feeling that this had just happened, they were all in shock, and they were howling their grief to the sky. That's why they were standing in the road, which is kind of un-goosey. Most of the time they hang around down by the water and take off if people get too close.

I was just about to take off my sweater and see if I could roll the goose over on top of it and haul it out of the way when a landscaping truck came along. I jumped up and down and waved, and he saw me, and he leaned out of the window, very puzzled. I asked him if he'd haul the goose carcass away so that the other geese would disperse before one of them got hit. He got out, looked at the goose, looked at the other geese, and then looked at me like I was crazy before he said, "Sure, lady, I'll put him in the truck." Which he did, after trying and failing to pick him up by his wing. Told you they were big birds. He finally had to pick him up by both feet.

The other geese stopped howling and watched this, very interested but not looking like they were in attack mode or anything. When the truck pulled away, they stepped back a little from the road and watched it go. One or two of them ventured out to check out the spot where the dead goose had been. Then they all turned around as a group and headed back to the lake. Some of them were still howling but most of them were just chattering now. If you've never heard geese, they sound kind of like a cocktail party. Lots of conversations you can't quite make out all going on at once.

I swear to God, I was at a goose funeral. I've never seen anything like that before in my life. Anybody who doesn't think aminals have feelings has plainly not spent enough time around them. I'm calling to mind a poem written by somebody I used to know, written on the occasion of finding a dead bird; "Why are you here/all alone? There must be/someone/in the avian world/who misses you."


David Isaak said...

What a fascinating story.

Konrad Lorenz, who spent so much time studying Greylag Geese, claimed that when one of them lost a mate they would go into a massive state of grief, ultimately flying madly around the countryside searching. Because of this grieving state, a Greylag seldom survives its mate by more than a few days--usually they meet with an accident or are snatched up by a predator becasue they aren't paying attention to self-preservation.

Apparently domestic geese share at least some of these mourning tendencies.

Jen Ster said...

I had a cat that died, and the other cat that lived with him kept running outside to look for him every day for the rest of her life (another five years). From now on I will bring the body home and show it to the other cats, however gruesome that may be.