Saturday, February 23, 2019

Snow Goose Time

Every year the geese pass over in great numbers because I live in the Atlantic flyway. When I was small, my dad made a big deal out of the Canadas, because at that time, DDT had nearly killed them off. This is hard to believe now, of course, as the Canadas are seen as a golf course/corporate campus pest.  

In those days, though, the sound of their haunting voices would bring Daddy out of the house with his little girl in tow. He’d tell me another extinction story, the one about the Passenger Pigeons, although the last representative of that family had died a decade before he was born. These birds had gone from a population of perhaps 5 Billion to none in fifty years.

“Men still live who, in their youth, remember pigeons; trees still live who, in their youth, were shaken by a living wind. But a few decades hence only the oldest oaks will remember, and at long last only the hills will know.”
—Aldo Leopold, “On a Monument to the Pigeon,” 1947, from Audubon online
The goose represented wilderness as they flew and called in the truncated V arrangements typical of the early ‘50’s. Where were they going, I wondered. “To the North, to the shores of the Bering Sea, way up north in Canada.” The magical destination was now named--a world as mythical to a small American child as the Back of the North Wind.

The snow geese were a revelation and a delight to a transplant to central Pennsylvania. I remember the first time I saw them, just a few flying over our home, in the sunlight that follows a February snow squall. Light gleamed on their bodies against a blue sky. In a moment of late winter quiet—no trains, planes, snow blowers--I heard their high voices, sweet and whispery compared to the brash honks of their Canada relatives.
The magic of white geese with their black tipped wings reminded me of other mythologies—like those European stories upon which the Swan Lake ballet is based. The sight of them set off thoughts of enchanted princesses and frozen lakes and -- magic!
The snow geese that come through here have a rest-stop fairly close, in Middlecreek. I'd been there in the summer, on long bicycle rides. Once, though, I'd driven out in February and had been lucky enough to find a great host of migrants already there. 

I was simply blown away by the sight and the sound of so much avian beauty, some rising in clouds while others, dumping air beneath their wings like fighter pilots, landed in open water. There were snow geese flying and snow goose swimming and snow geese resting upon the ice. In one small outlet, like royalty keeping to themselves, were the elegant Swans.

Like a child, I could look up and imagine myself rising from the earth and flying off with them, joining the storm of wings. I'd find my place among relations, get in line and cruise across mountains and forests. I'd forget the past and the future and just be in today--the next patch of green, the next drink of water, delighting in the strength and power of my wings! 
This flight of fancy ended abruptly when an eagle cannoned into the cloud of geese and took one of the beautiful creatures. For an instant, seeing a limp neck dangling in his claws--a creature that just seconds ago had been full of life--I was stunned. That's when I remembered the rest of a goose's--or any wild creature's life--suffering through storms, the fox in the night, the insatiable men hidden in the reeds.

 Coming home from a friend's house last Sunday as the sun went down behind low clouds, I could hear the Canada's calling in the last quarter mile. Overhead sailed great Vs of travelers. Others were landing, in the littered cornfield behind a row of old houses. When drivers in front suddenly turned in. I followed them, and sure enough, from a back alley, I could see snow geese, a great army, taking a break, looking around, talking to one another, here before sundown. 

 I had the pleasure of seeing them up close--just for a few minutes. It didn't take the wise old leaders long to figure out that there were too many people here. Soon, too soon, they lifted up again and moved on north, in the direction of larger and more isolated fields. For the brief time it took for the great cloud to arise, I was a kid again, imagining that if I wished hard enough, I could grow wings and travel with them, looking down upon the wonders of our Mother Earth.

~~Juliet Waldron

See all my historical novels at:


  1. So lovely! You painted such a beautiful word picture of something I can't recall ever seeing or hearing (although I can't imagine not ever being under their wings). In your capable hands, this image will no doubt stay with me.

  2. I remember from my childhood in France, the swallows gathering on the electric wires in the fall. Each day their numbers increased, until they all took flight at the same time for warmer climates, leaving the town quiet and a little sad... until their return in the spring.