Wednesday, June 15, 2011

God's Birds

Pivotal" is, I guess the most accurate way to describe yesterday.
It began with painful, knife-in-the-gut, death-in-the-family kind of news.  The kind of stuff that sends some people to shrinks or medications.  The kind of confusion that begs the question, "How could this happen?" and "Why did it happen?"  The kind of life event that one has no ability to change.
Indeed, it was the kind of occurrence that sometimes compels us to question the existence of God.
But, this journal isn't about those kinds of soul wrenching matters and life altering events 
Rather, it is simply about animals and specifically for the moment, Canada geese.
(Interpersonal dynamics and events aside, they can nevertheless, set the stage for what later occurs.)
It was with heavy and confused heart that I left with my two dogs yesterday before dusk to return to Turtle Pond in Central Park.
I hoped to find the four geese observed the night before, flying south over the park.   A part of me also wished that two of them might be Mama and Papa goose returning to "their" pond after mysteriously vanishing a couple of weeks ago.  But, I dared not hope too much of that. It was a dim possibility and I knew it.
Temperatures were cool and the end of the day, misty.  A light rain intermittently fell, sending many park goers scrambling towards the park exits as I entered.
Lots of troubling thoughts and questions were mulling through my head as I approached the Great Lawn.
But, they were abruptly interrupted when looking out over the quiet and plush, green lawn through the hazy mist.
A memory suddenly intruded my head and overwhelmed the senses.
Mama and Papa goose and two of their grown goslings peacefully grazing on the grass.
The image was from less than a month old and occurred on a similar rainy and misty day.
But, reality this time, was that the geese were no where to be seen on the forlorn and damp field. 
It simple appeared green and endless.
I tried to will the juxtaposing images of the geese on the field out of my head, as it was in such sharp contrast to the stark emptiness before me.  But, the memory would not leave.
Rain started to fall a little heavier, then blending with tears suddenly streaming freely down my face.
A part of me was grateful for both, the rain and the fact there weren't many people around.  I could not seem to control the torrent of unexpected emotions running through me like a huge, crashing wave.
Gathering my dogs and trying desperately to regain composure, we left the Great Lawn area and walked towards Turtle Pond.  
But even before arriving there, I knew I would not see any geese.
More disappointment and more uncontrollable tears.  The pond appeared so still and lifeless without the two familiar geese on it.  The small rock where Mama and Papa rested at night and frequently groomed themselves was likewise, barren and empty.  
More tears flooding and blurring my eyes.
I can't come to Turtle Pond anymore.  I can't look at this emptiness anymore.
But, the pond was not, in fact, entirely "lifeless."
Two mama ducks with tiny ducklings rested on the set of rocks at the east side of the pond.  -- The same rocks where Mama and Papa used to sleep at night with their goslings.
I attempted to focus attention on the new duck families and went with my dogs to shoot some photos.
One mama duck had 8 tiny ducklings clustered together at the edge of the rocks near the water.   The other mama had only one (older) duckling and she and the one surviving baby were with a mallard.   I wondered if the mallard was the "daddy" of the little one and thought it unusual for a family of mallards to actually be together.  Usually, the mother mallards (unlike geese) raise their babies alone.
While the ducks lightened, temporarily, the melancholy and despair otherwise weighing on my soul,  I still wanted to search the entire area for any possible geese.
After tossing some seeds to the two duck families, Tina, Chance and I walked the south side of the pond leading up to Belvedere Castle.
I looked at the green, lush grass areas where Mama, Papa and their goslings used to graze last year.   So plush and healthy looking.  But now so empty and lonely.
More tears, mixed with a some disgust for the ways geese have been so falsely accused of "destroying grass."  Nothing could be in fact, further from the truth.
Finally reaching Belvedere Castle and peering down over the empty rocks -- the same rocks where Mama sat on her nest in late April, only to later lose her eggs, I once again became emotionally unglued.
Closing my eyes and finally burying my face in my hands, I could not look anymore at the lifelessness and kind of "death" before me.   Death where once, so much life had been.
It seemed everything was gone.
Please, God, help me.  What does this all mean?  I need some sign of something...of hope.....its all so gone.....Help me.
But, there was no great light beam in the sky -- just the rain still slightly, but steadily coming down and seeming to obliterate, the fading light of the day.
Nevertheless, suddenly feeling somewhat and ironically energized despite the overwhelming sense of loss and despair, there was still one place I had not looked.....
I had no expectations when going to the lake and indeed, at first glance, it appeared to be the same emptiness that I'd been looking at during the previous hour.
But, something caught my eye  -- what appeared to be some bird-like shapes on a far rock.
Could it be?   Am I now imagining things in the dark?
I had to get closer to get a better look.
Traversing little winding paths through scores of trees and brush, I had no idea where my dogs and I were going, but merely followed sense of direction and some seemingly guiding force.
Finally reaching an opening to the lake, I looked out on a rock to see a small group of mallards peacefully resting.
Disappointment washed over me again, when realizing that is what I must have seen when first arriving at the lake.  As much as I love ducks, they weren't the geese I was searching for.
Not wanting to disturb the mallards any further, my dogs and I continued to walk quietly along the little path facing the lake, ready at last to give up and return home.
But, then suddenly, I was stopped in my tracks.
There, just a few feet in front of me was a gaggle of ten geese quietly standing on a large rock!
Oh my God.  Is this a mirage?
I almost could not believe my eyes.  Suddenly this huge feeling of relief and gratitude and, I don't know, achievement or validation of some sort suddenly swept over me.
After securing my dogs to the small fencing, I removed some cracked corn from my bag and started to toss some to the geese who slowly, but confidently approached me as if in recognition.
It was then I noticed, one of the geese walked with a pronounced limp!
It was Papa goose!  -- And right next to him, Mama!
It was like a miracle.
Within minutes both geese, so intimately familiar, were nibbling gently from my hand.
There are no words to express the sense of peace and joy I felt --like a cozy fireplace and warm homecoming with loved ones.  Like a huge weight had suddenly been lifted off my back.
Adding to the sense of suddenly being blessed,  was the realization that at least four or five of the other geese were the grown goslings from Mama and Papa of last year.  Two of them joined their parents in confidently taking treats from my hand.
I stayed for some minutes just taking in this miraculous site before me and even chatting to the geese. It was a moment I wanted to hang on to for a lifetime.
It was funny to note, once gain, Papa goose nudging the tail feathers and asserting authority over a couple of the youngsters as he did back on Turtle Pond. The whole scene in fact, was like old times.
I also noticed that at least half of the geese, including the parents, appeared to be molting.
One of the ganders however, who had not yet lost flight feathers was acting as "sentry" for the group.  I found that interesting, considering that Papa was the presumed leader of the gaggle.  Perhaps the sentry goose was from a different family or more likely,  took on the protective position because he could still fly and perhaps represent threat to a potential predator.
It was wonderful to be enjoying these sweet moments with the "family" once again.  Even more wonderful, this wasn't a memory.  It was real and it was in the present.
Rain started to come down a little harder and the evening had then turned dark.
It was time to say good night to my friends.
"May God keep and protect you."
Retracing steps back to the Great Lawn once again, I sat with my dogs on a wet park bench in the same location that earlier had wrought sobs, tears and sense of profound loss.
I found myself strangely crying once again, but this time, I could not fully understand why.
So many things had happened on this day. So much I didn't understand and couldn't find explanation for.
But, then through this haze of questions, fears, confusion, longing and loss, but at the same time, joy and reunion, came one clear and concise thought:
You have to keep fighting for the geese.
And suddenly the events of both the day and the night began to make some clear, but troubling sense.
The sacrifices, ridicules and burdens would be many and they would be great. So too, would be the questions, losses and doubts.  Could one ever hope to have the strength to bear them out and withstand?
But, it wasn't my place to understand the "whys" of them, as much as to simply recognize and embrace them.
I had asked for guidance and sign and they had been granted.  -- PCA

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