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The Gosling MAG
It was the gentle time of year. The grass was growing thick and lush and the spring peepers were singing their love songs from dusk 'til dawn. This was a sacred time for my backyard, and me, as a kayaker and a nature lover. That simple time of year when spring gives birth to new life and is full of proud green foliage and brightly colored flowers. My story inhabits that beloved time of year when the last April rains gently shake the newly appointed bright green leaves and the wildflowers speckle the woods with pink polka dots.
I cherished every moment of solitude sitting in my kayak on the lake, as it stewed with new life and nutrients, full to the brim, promising the freedom of summer. This was also the time that the Canada geese were rearing their young.
From as far back as I can remember, the Canada geese were foreign foes in our backyard oasis. We almost seemed to be at war with them: chicken wire fence kept them out of the promised land of grass, the dowry to which in every way possible those dastardly fowl sought satisfaction. Since the first spring I could walk, I used to run after them and watch them flee into the woods, hissing. Those were the good old days, with no obligations and a bounty of fun to be had. But as I grew older, I gained three things that took me from the joy of chasing wild animals: knowledge, respect, and better things to do. I had decided to cut the geese some slack and let nature take its course. A handful of years later, the same pair was still nesting at the far side of the pond, and they paid no attention to my presence.
One fateful spring day, my father charged me with the task of sabotaging the geese's eggs: dipping them in oil to block the exchange of air to the embryo inside, effectively stopping its development while leaving the parents something to sit on. This presented me with a number of problems. First, goading the ever-vigilant parents from the nest would not be easy. And watching their eggs be molested, they might fly into a rage and attack me. This led to my second problem: the tacit armistice between the beasts and me would be completely shattered. Thirdly, I had reached a point where killing a living – or soon-to-be-living – creature was both a moral and emotional wrongdoing. So after thinking the matter over, I decided to keep procrastinating until the eggs had developed enough that it would be illegal to oil them.
A month later, my father believed the deed was done. And on a warm late April morning (if I remember correctly, Passover morning), the goslings hatched. Though he was furious, there was nothing he could do. Not even my father, invincible as he seemed, could kill a living creature, let alone a defenseless baby. The squeaky, fluffy yellow goslings were here to stay. And it is here that my story truly begins.
When they were a week old, I decided to take out my kayak and observe the nest, which with the chicks had become a formidable mountain of down and twigs. In the past the birds had had no quarrel with me in my boat, so they would certainly pay me little attention. So the next afternoon, a humid and overcast one, I took to the water. The geese seemed not to mind, but as all parents do, they kept a keen watch on me. I counted the goslings – six – splashing in the lily pads and paddling around in the dainty way goslings do.
And then, as though my childhood impulsiveness had resurrected itself from the dark recesses of my heart, I thrust my paddle into the water and accelerated toward the unsuspecting brood. They scattered. It was great fun, watching the birds squawk and splash, but I soon came to my senses, returned to the shore.
I observed the goose family run into the woods, bickering amongst themselves in the way that geese do. But something was wrong: there were only five goslings. I counted, recounted, and recounted again, but there were still only five. One was missing.
I knew that the parents would be on the hunt for missing number six, but what if they failed? A lone gosling would never survive the night with the oncoming rain, not to mention the foxes and feral cats. I made up my mind: I would find the missing baby and return him. I got back into my boat and kept my ears as well as my eyes open, for an infant goose is easier to hear with its distinctive squeaking than spot in the foggy woods.
Finding the lost gosling was not hard: he was squeaking awkwardly at the back of the pond, where he had situated himself between two oak tree roots. Retrieving him was the issue. For a week-old yellow fluff ball, the little beast was unexpectedly hard to catch. I spent an embarrassingly long time chasing him through the woods.
I had never held a gosling before. He was extraordinarily soft, about the size and color of a tennis ball, had a tiny beak the color of Colombian coffee, and deep, black, glassy eyes. He had stubby little wings, which, to his dismay, had no affect on freeing him from my grasp. A more effective means, he soon discovered, was his beak, which resulted in another chase. So after securing him so he could not bite my hand or escape, I brought him to my boat, placed him in the cup holder.
Reaching the other side of the pond I disembarked and sat in the grass clutching the gosling, hoping the baby's incessant crying would bring the parents back. But, after a half-hour, the geese were nowhere to be found. I walked into the woods where they usually were but could not find them. What if I had scared them off for good? Surely no parent would abandon its child. Even the idiotic Canada geese had some sense of duty. But dusk was coming, and I had to call off the effort for the night. I brought the gosling home and presented him to my parents.
They decided to leave the situation completely to me. Maybe they thought it would teach me a lesson about messing with the natural order of things. I had no idea how to raise a gosling.
Hoping I could take on this challenge, I placed the chick in a cat carrier with an electric blanket and a bowl of water, and immediately took to the Internet to find out what they eat. Of course, grass. I went outside and picked some, threw it in a bowl, and offered it to the gosling. The baby had not stopped squeaking, but when I picked him up and stroked his tiny head, he calmed down.
I soon came up with a name, without even thinking: I would name him Friday, like Robinson Crusoe's companion, and given the day of the week. By bedtime, I had gotten Friday a fresh blanket and newly cut grass, and put him to bed in his crate. I was calm and confident: I would put the chick near my open window so when his parents returned to the backyard they would hear him and I would release him.
This plan proved harder than I thought. Days passed with no sign of the parents, and I was becoming worried. What if the parents were gone for good? Would I have to raise the gosling? Not a preferable option. So, when the spring rains finally slowed and the forecast indicated warm, dry weather, I set up a small fenced-in area on the back lawn to make Friday more accessible to his parents.
While Friday was in my possession, I had tried to stay away from him for fear of becoming his surrogate mother, more for my sake than his. Surely when he saw his real parents and siblings, he would recognize them as his true family. The issue for me was that after losing several major figures in my life – grandparents, friends, pets, even toys – I had developed a tendency to become attached, even to a bubbly yellow gosling.
So, six days later, on that steamy Thursday afternoon when Friday's parents finally showed up, I was sad to open the cage. Of course, his parents were enraged by my presence. Any mother or father would be infuriated with the abductor of a child. Yet they seemed to understand as I placed Friday on the grass and watched him waddle away, back to his kind.