Learning to Speak Goose
Kayaking for the two-dozenth time on the same stretch of the Jordan River, a natural phenomenon new to me showed itself as I paddled along upstream. The river is full of such surprises, which it gives me the honor of witnessing, a few at a time, so as not to overwhelm my feelings of wonder, and not to dull my sense of the miraculous. A gander, a Canada Goose, led a small pre-fledged gaggle of goslings upriver, the mama goose in the place of caboose. I approached them carefully, paddling slowly against the current, to say hello. And they responded by gathering speed and flicking their beaked heads nervously this way and that. Though of course I had no intention of hurting them or frightening them, or even teasing them, nature dictated that they fear me. And rightly so, for I am sure I seemed to them a giant malevolent alien goose-hunting weapon-wielding creature, easily capable of ending their lives. The gander knew I was gliding faster than he could ever swim, and abandoned his effort to outpace me. Switching strategies, he prepared for flight—a smart plan, with a good chance of success, since he could fly infinitely faster and higher than I could fly, though I wondered about his abandonment. But he could not seem to launch, instead flapping his wings loudly and frantically on the water, as if hurt.
That Mr. Gander sure tricked me. He fooled me good. His antics made focusing on him irresistible. Finally yanking my attention away from the frantic papa goose, I looked back to the mama goose and goslings to see how they fared, but saw only fading ripples. They were gone, disappeared, and did not reappear while I sat and drifted, befuddled. Resuming my upstream slog, I almost failed to notice the same number of goslings of the same age and fuzziness ensconced safely behind a leafy branch hanging low over the bank, some one hundred feet from the dive: clearly the same goslings who gave me the slip while I focused on the feigning father. That gander had drawn my whole attention to him, for the sake and safety of his little ones, his progeny, and his mated partner. I had failed to understand that by slapping his wings on the water he was signaling his objection to my invasion of family space, and warning me to keep away. I had ignored his clear Goose-speak (I really need to learn Goose), and he had water-slapped away, not abandoning his family (of course), but protecting his family. I will keep my distance next time the wings beat on the water, and respect the family space. The Jordan is goose home, after all, and I am just a curious occasional uninformed rather rudely interloping human, who doesn’t know the language.
(The Jordan River, named by 1840s Mormon pioneers fleeing to Utah from religious persecution in the frontier United States, flows north from the freshwater Utah Lake into the vast fishless Great Salt Lake, reminding the refugees of the homeland of their God Jesus.)