Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Return to Zero

The change was subtle and would probably be missed by most. 
But, to me it was dynamic and unmistakable.
I knew from the first instant of arriving to Harlem Meer last night that the family of four geese were gone and that the "party" was over.
I knew that by the behavior of the mallards.
All of the ducks were, (as usual), in the water when I first arrived with my dogs and that told me everything I needed to know.
Although recognizing me and swimming to the embankment, the ducks had returned to their more cautious and subdued behavior.  Gone was the loud, raucous antics of the night before, as well as the confident prancing and chasing around on the grass -- like drunk sailors enjoying a night on the town. 
Even Brad (the domestic, flightless duck) had returned to his now familiar and seemingly quiet and nervous ways.  Brad (unlike the wild party evening before), had nothing to "say" last night.
After tossing a few treats to the ducks, I sat with my two dogs on a park bench, hoping in vain that the four geese would magically show up.
But, I knew Papa, Mama and the two yearlings were nowhere on the dark lake, illuminated only by the full, bright moon overhead.  -- A moon that then seemed to be laughing at and mocking me.
I attempted to ponder the reasons the geese might have departed after only one day at Harlem Meer.
Perhaps they were simply "park hopping" and took off for one of the park lawns for some easy grazing at night?
Or, perhaps Papa goose, when realizing they were the only geese at the Meer, steered the family to search and seek out whatever new staging site might now exist for the geese?
(A "staging site" is one where, after having molted or raised young somewhere else over the summer, the geese then fly away and "gather" with former flock or extended family members prior to the fall migrations.)  
As previously noted, Harlem Meer used to be the "staging" site for many families of geese to congregate this time of year.  They would usually rest, eat and then gather their gaggles together to gradually leave in large groups to fly to wherever they spend the winters.
But, this year, the only geese to "gather" at the Meer were the family of four (Mommy, Daddy and two goslings) from the Reservoir and two "loner" geese who presumably hooked up with the family.
But, all six geese were apparently harassed and chased out of the Meer (never to be seen since) about three weeks ago by "goose patrols."
So, the question is, when noting the goose-empty Harlem Meer, did Papa and his family simply set out to find the new staging site?
I had to acknowledge that such would be important to do.  As much as I might selfishly want the family of four to stay at the Meer until migration time, reality is that a tiny group of four geese flying through the air in rural areas during the fall would be an easy target for hunters.
Nevertheless, no matter how much I tried to rationalize and explain away to myself last night, the logical reasons why the geese might suddenly leave Harlem Meer after only one day, one explanation kept interjecting itself repeatedly:
The geese were harassed and chased out of the Meer, presumably early yesterday morning.
And when continually having to consider that final explanation, a part of me wished that I had never learned the truth last Friday afternoon.
"Lie to me......I promise, I'll believe."
Some might question the logic of that lyric from an old Sheryl Crow song.
But, I understand all too well exactly what it means.
I wished like hell last night that I did not have to consider at all the third (and perhaps most likely?) explanation for the geese's sudden departure.
In many ways now, I feel a little like a spouse whose partner has admitted betrayal.
Everything -- even innocent or normal occurrences -- then become "suspicious" after that.
"Is my partner really working late or stuck in a traffic jam -- or, is s/he out carousing again?"
For us who strive to learn about nature and the geese, the questions become:  Is the disappearance of the geese natural?  Did they leave on their own accord?  Or, were they harassed and chased out?   
(In some locations, the questions are even worse:  "Did the geese leave on their own accord?  Or, were they rounded up and gassed or slaughtered?"   I should consider myself lucky to not have to ponder the latter explanation.)
I realize now, I will probably forever have problems both, "trusting" the actions of my park and city and worse, even trusting my own observations about nature and geese.
I simply don't know what is true anymore -- and even less so, what is natural.
(Then again, Central Park is really not so "natural" these days and probably never was. More often than not recently, I find myself thinking that Central Park has primarily become an outdoors version of "New York Sports Clubs" -- sans the tread mills.)
Indeed, a part of me wishes I had never learned the truth last Friday -- the words still burning in my ears:
"Yes, we have been using goose patrols since the geese completed molting in July."
The very idea of using goose harassment at a time the geese would naturally be "gathering" to prepare for flying away anyway is so preposterous as to denote little or no knowledge at all of natural animal and bird behavior.
Whatever "natural" behavior exists in geese has been totally disrupted and altered by our never-ending "war," harassment and defamation of the birds.
If I am learning anything at all about the geese or nature, it is how does nature "adapt" to man's endless persecution?
Not exactly the lessons I have wanted to learn.
I left Harlem Meer last night with my heart slumped down to my shoes.
Not too unlike the ducks who, though hiding their disappointment well, simply slinked quietly back into the water.
The change was subtle, but unmistakable.
"No geese today.....the joy has gone away."
Return to zero.  -- PCA

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