Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Goose Cause

Forget the alcohol. Forget the drugs.  Forget the medications, food, shopping or whatever other diversions people use to help get them out of some funk.
Find a swimming pool, jump in, swim at least a mile --  and hope that when you get out, you find some beautiful geesies and duckies to finish taking the edge off.
Guaranteed to put a smile on your face even if the whole world were to suddenly cave in.
I felt like the world was caving in yesterday after a particularly combative, testy and frustrating phone conversation.
Some people might think I enjoy these kinds of confrontations because I seem to engage in so many of them of late.   But, I actually don't.
On the contrary, sometimes they are simply depressing -- like some heavy weight crushing down on one's shoulders.
I didn't look forward to making the call yesterday because I knew the recipient and I were coming from two different places.  I needed to ask tough questions and I was quite sure she would not want to answer them.  Indeed, I didn't know if she even had the answers to give.
The call started off politely enough:
"Ms. Bannerman, I have some questions regarding last month's goose roundups around the city."
"I will be happy to help," Carol Bannerman, of USDA's Public Affairs answered cordially.
"Well, as you know a press release went out in June issued from the DEP announcing that about 800 geese would be rounded up from the NYC Metropolitan area by USDA and sent to Pennsylvania for processing and donation to a food bank.  But, we are having trouble confirming that story. Can you tell me exactly where the geese were sent to? What slaughtering plant?"
"I cannot give you the name of the processing plant for privacy and security reasons.  But,  I can tell you the geese were sent to Pennsylvania as announced."
Feeling slightly disappointed, but not surprised that Bannerman wouldn't divulge the name of the slaughterhouse, I pressed on.
"What kind of processing plant is it?  Do they slaughter domestic animals as well?"
"It is a waterfowl processing plant," Bannerman answered with some edge in her voice.
"Can you send me a copy of the kill permit?"
"You mean the depredation permit?  I can ask Lee Humberg to send you that. You spoke with him, didn't you?  Why did you say he hung up on you?"
"I didn't say he hung up on me! The battery in his phone went dead or he picked up on another call. He told me to hold on, but the line went dead."
I was very surprised and somewhat taken aback, that Bannerman knew I had spoken with Lee Humberg, also of USDA last week.  I had not told her that.
"He was speaking to you while driving his car." Bannerman offered, flatly.
"He didn't say anything about driving a car," I replied. (I guess that explains Humberg's sporadic silences last week.  I had speculated he was playing video games on the side.) 
I then added,  "Mr. Humberg advised me to call you, Ms. Bannerman. He said you might have answers to some questions."
"What else do you want to know?" Bannerman asked, the politeness seemingly gone out of her voice.
"Well, I am confused about who has responsibility for testing the geese for possible toxins. The Communications Director at the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank told me it was the USDA.  But, Mr. Humberg told me it is the state."
"We didn't announce what food banks the geese might be going to."
"No, but a newspaper article quoted the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank as saying they would 'welcome' NYC geese.  But, when I spoke with Brad Peterson of the food bank, he told me that even though they had received goose meat, it was not labeled and he didn't know where it was from. He also seemed to be misinformed about whose responsibility it was to toxicity test the geese." 
"Protocols have changed in the last couple of years. The state tests the geese," Bannerman answered curtly.
"That's a very broad statement, Ms. Bannerman," I answered,  feeling annoyed. "WHO in the state?  What agency or entity?  And what are they testing FOR?"
"The New York State Department of Health tests and deems the geese fit for human consumption," Bannerman replied.
"But, I thought we were taking about Pennsylvania!" I shot back. "Who in Pennsylvania tests them?"
"Pennsylvania already has the processes in place for testing and distribution. They are doing that now."
"But, the gentleman at the food bank told me they had already received their allotment of goose meat for this period.  Were these geese individually tested for things like mercury, lead, PCB's and pesticide residues?"
"Why don't you ask these questions of hunters?" Bannerman asked somewhat abrasively. "They killed 70,000 resident geese in New York State last year.  They eat them!"
The question totally stunned me.
A number of sarcastic barbs popped up in my mind:
Do I sound like the kind of person who would have hunters as friends?  How do you know the geese are 'resident?'  Do the geese wear signs dangling from their necks when flying announcing, "I am a resident goose!"
But, since the conversation was already getting heated, I decided to skip the sarcasm.
"Ms. Bannerman, hunters shoot geese in the fall when the birds are not molting and sickly. They also shoot them in rural areas.  Areas that are not routinely spayed with pesticides -- like city parks."
"Sickly?  What do you mean by sickly?" Bannerman inquired, skeptically.
"According to bird experts, geese can be feverish and sickly when going through the molt. I believe that based on personal observation. Geese are much more sluggish and lethargic when going through the molt. They barely move and appear disheveled.  And yet, you are going to feed these sickly birds to people!"
"That is your opinion!"  Bannerman countered, angrily.
"It is NOT my opinion that the geese are feeding on park grass that is treated with pesticides. That is a FACT -- especially with the fear of West Nile Virus."
At this point, the conversation was going downhill quickly and continued to degenerate.
We continued to argue about the testing.
"As said, the NY State Department of Health deems the geese healthy enough for human consumption," Bannerman reiterated.
"When did they decide that?" I asked.  "The Dept of Health didn't previously approve of the geese for human consumption.  When did they test the geese and come up with the change in policy?"
"They ran tests last year."
???   I was totally stunned by Bannerman's statement once again.
"I am confused now," I replied earnestly.  "I thought the geese rounded up last year were gassed and simply dumped in a landfill."
"Gassing with CO2 does not render the meat unfit for human consumption," Bannerman replied with confidence. 
"So, they gassed the geese and then tested all of them and then dumped them in a landfill?  That doesn't make sense!"
"Obviously they didn't test a thousand geese!   They tested some of them."
"Well then, that is just a sample!    How does a sample apply to hundreds of wild birds rounded up in different locations and in this case, different years?"
At this point, both Bannerman and I were totally irritated and agitated with each other.
We weren't getting anywhere constructive.
"Look, do you want to continue to discuss this?" Bannerman asked with obvious distaste and disdane. "Or, do you want me to send you the report?"
"Send the depredation permit to my email address" I replied, knowing I would not get anything further out of Bannerman.
"I will ask Lee to send it to you." Bannerman replied cooly.
"Thank you."
Following this most extremely unpleasant conversation, I felt depressed.
Was I too argumentative and combative with a woman who was simply "doing her job?"  What kind of answers did I expect from a Public Affairs professional?
From what I gathered from the difficult conversation, Bannerman didn't really have answers to most of the questions I threw her way.  She doesn't make decisions for roundups.  She doesn't even go out on them. Its simply her job to defend them.
And that she does well.
It was pretty obvious from maybe the first five minutes that Bannerman and I were not going to agree on anything.  We were coming from totally opposite ends of an issue, like two politicians running for office and hotly debating.
Although I am normally a person who doesn't worry or care much about whether or not I am "liked" by others, it does bother me sometimes to think I am some kind of "warrior" in a battle, deliberately edging people on and looking for weak spots.
The contentious conversation ran through my mind and I jotted some of it down in a notebook.
But, I couldn't make any decisions about it.
At least not until having a good swim.
After tuning in the TV to watch, "Jeopardy" I headed quickly out after the bonus question to Lasker Pool at Harlem Meer.
Part of me dreaded going to the Meer again as the last two times there, I had only found one goose on the entire lake.   That in itself was "depressing."
But, this time when returning to the Meer, there was a total of five geese once again.
Apparently the family of four geese had returned!
The one lone goose (from last week) appeared to be trying to find an "in" with the family, but politely kept a safe distance, so as not to presumably irritate the gander.
Feeling relieved that there were at least a few geese at the Meer, once again, I headed to Lasker pool.
The temperature was only 68 degrees.  A delightfully cool evening after all of the rain of the weekend, the pool was very sparsely attended.
The cool water felt great!
Invigorating, emancipating.
It was good to be "flying" once again -- like the geese.
After the 40 minute swim,  I showered, quickly dressed and then headed out again to walk around the Meer.
I found a goose feather along the south embankment and picked it up.
Hopefully, it would be good luck.
And sure enough, a little further along the path, there were the five geese in the water peacefully swimming together, the "loner" goose, however, a good twenty feet or so from the family.
I tossed some crack corn to a mother mallard and her one surviving duckling.  Other mallards joined in and few minutes later, the family of four geese cautiously climbed the embankment.
I grabbed my camera from my swim bag and started to take some photos.
I marveled at how big the gander of this family was. Almost twice the size of his much smaller mate.  Their grown goslings too, looked healthy, beautiful and spiffy.
And then, Brad, the flightless domestic duck who lost his mate, Angelina early in the summer, happened on the embankment to grab some treats, along with a couple of female mallards.
It was a whimsical, beautiful scene.
The mallards were chatty and feisty (as always).  The geese wary and a little skittish, but peaceful and self-contained.
"Loner" goose however, remained in the water, seemingly just watching everything.
He probably would have been foolish to challenge the very large gander of the family.
Finally, tossing out the rest of the seeds and lettuce, I said goodnight to all my feathered friends and began to head out of the park.
Suddenly, I no longer felt questioning or "depressed" about the earlier,  combative conversation with Carol Bannerman of the USDA.
If I am a arrogant bitch or purposeful warrior, it is at least for a noble and worthy cause.
My beloved geese are worth fighting for, every minute of every day.
A goose cause.   -- PCA

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