Friday, May 30, 2014
Given the mess they leave on lawns, given the sheer noise they make, and given the fact that you see them all over the country, calling the river dwellers in our back yard Canadian Geese seems almost a slur against our northern neighbors. They're everywhere, including the open fields behind our house, where dozens of them gobble roots and cackle incessantly as they wander out from their bivouac on the sandpit just behind the river--greatly desirable goose real estate.
Just now the railroad went clattering by, drowning out their endless off-key braying. Birds are supposed to sing, right? Last night a goldfinch did half an opera on our bird feeder, an aria that must have lasted a quarter hour with only occasional pauses to feed, a remarkable performance in a soprano so shrill it might have shattered windows if we didn't have Pellas all around.
But there's nothing beautiful or moving about the song of the goose. How's that for a title no one would buy?--The Song of the Goose. Try Amazon.
Still, when our noisy neighbors take wing, their precision is perfectly military. They even come off the ground in formation, their massive wings toe-to-toe; and it only gets more precise and practiced as they rise. You just can't help but admire they way they land too, wings motionless from a quarter mile out, so proudly disciplined you might think they're just now returning from training a bunch of upstart 737s.
They're huge, imposing, a force to be reckoned with. When they take wing right over the house, they put us in shadow land. As long as they don't camp out on our yard, they're great neighbors really, if you don't mind the noisy falsettos. Every night we hear them, a gaggle of rookie clarinetists.
In Celtic Christianity the goose is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. I'm serious. Look it up. Other than the fact that they have wings, beaks, and feathers, there's little to link doves and geese. Doves coo, after all. Like saints, doves eat off the ground in their hair shirt coat of dull gray, abstaining from any possible ostentation. Do they even create fecal matter? For pity sakes, doves even mourn almost blessedly. And they love well. You see lovebirds and you see doves, right?
A goose as the Holy Spirit? Give me a break.
Flannery O'Connor will forever be associated with peacocks, since she raised them; but Ms. O'Connor, I'm sure, would giggle at the idea of a goose as the Holy Ghost. After all, in many of her stories, the third person of the trinity takes comic disguises, from bulls to bullies, even to mass murderers. You never know exactly how he/she/it is going to show up.
But then, seriously, the Holy Spirit generally gets the really fun jobs, God almighty's comic sidekick. I once met a Japanese man who became a Christian because he'd listen to Christian radio between burglaries. Go figure. An old preacher friend once told me about a woman who became a believer simply because she'd seen an Arizona desert crowned with snow. Once upon a time on the Damascus Road, something goose-like struck a man named Saul flat-out blind.
And they hiss--geese do. They're not cuddly. In an interview on NPR last Sunday morning, an Appalachian pastor named Edwin Lacy claimed that geese make wonderful symbols of the Holy Ghost because they're wilder than doves and occasionally, if you don't behave, they'll come right up and bite your butt.
I like that too.
Anyway, our neighbors, the ones with the big white chin straps, basically mind their own business. They just make a lot of joyful noise, really, lots of it. Where two or three are gathered, it seems, there's got to be an argument or a concert--there's little difference. Sometimes I wish they weren't such an eternal presence.
But they are. They're always there. They're always, always there.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:37 AM