Friday, October 14, 2011

Empty Pages

Had someone told me a year ago, that from the period of late August to mid October, there would not be one Canada goose in Central Park (or even just Harlem Meer) I would not have believed it.
And yet, except for the couple of days of temporarily spotting the Turtle Pond goose family at Harlem Meer, that has exactly been the case.
No flyovers, no geese grazing on a lawn or lazily swimming in a pond or lake.  No geese at all, except for the family of five geese who now have me asking myself if they were mirages or figments of my imagination? 
As quickly as the family consisting of two parent geese and their three surviving yearlings had appeared, they were gone a day or two later.
Some days I come to this journal (which over the past year has been dedicated to Canada geese) and, like a writer suffering "writer's block," there is nothing to say.
But, its not because of having a blank page before me.  Its because of having a "blank page" so to speak in Central Park.  A blank and empty page of the subject I am supposedly researching, studying and writing about.
A couple of years ago, when first noticing and becoming fascinated with Canada geese in Central Park, I wanted to learn about them.
I set out to find a book about the life patterns, communications, behaviors and characters of Canada geese.  But though going to several large book stores, I could find nothing except those books offering information on where to find the birds for "hunting."
The same was true in on-line searches, whether articles or web sites. 
Although the Audubon Society website provided some information on the history and origins of Canada geese, there was little in terms of the specifics I was searching for.
So, that is when I decided the study and photograph the birds myself.
In May of 2010, I was fortunate to discover a goose family at Turtle Pond in Central Park. 
According to other bird observers, the six goslings were hatched on Mother's Day in 2010.  The parents had returned to and nested at Turtle Pond for some years, but in previous years, their eggs had been oiled and were prevented from hatching.  But, in 2010 the pair  nested in the rocks of Belvedere Castle and presumably their eggs were not discovered and thus hatched.
It was a wonderful experience watching the "babies" grow up and the devotion and protection of both parents. Moreover, I discovered the geese to be extremely social birds who enjoyed interactions with people and easily recognized friendly human faces. Indeed, the parent geese even seemed to realize quickly those dogs who were not a threat to them.
Over the next few months, I visited Turtle Pond everyday with my two dogs and took dozens of photos of the geese and their growing goslings.  Many of the photos were of people and children feeding the geese and taking their own photos.   Indeed, everyone seemed to relish in this glorious wonder of nature before them.
Children especially loved the geese.  More than once, parents had to beseech their kids to finally come away, but it seemed the children never tired of the parent geese and their "babies."  I recall particularly a man holding a little girl about three-years-old who had the biggest smile on her face when looking at the geese and continually giggled. When finally leaving, the little girl cried and waved her hand in frustration to return to the geese!
Sometimes, I visited Turtle Pond in the evening.  It was amazing then to see the family gathered together on the large rock at the east side of the pond.   Papa always stood alertly as "sentry" a few feet away from Mama goose and the goslings huddled closely together.  Indeed, I began to wonder if the Papa goose actually ever slept?  But, a few times I noticed the parents actually changing places in order presumably for the gander to finally catch a little rest, while mama kept vigilance.
All the geese knew me and especially the goslings immediately came to me every time I showed up.  All six of them ate from my hand, while usually the parents stayed a few feet back and carefully watched.
So protective are geese parents, that a mother mallard with her flock of ducklings, would sleep within feet of the goose family every night.  I attributed that to the security that the geese provided for the ducks and other waterfowl.
One of the six goslings had a condition called "Angel Wing" which meant he would never be able to fly.  Both wings drooped to the ground and splayed out, giving him a distinct appearance from the others.
I named that particular gosling, "Binky." 
Ironically, Binky was the most trusting and friendly of all the geese.
On July 8th of 2010, a major news story broke and was covered in the New York Times of a USDA roundup and gassing of 368 Canada geese and goslings at Prospect Park in Brooklyn.
Community members were outraged at the secret slaughter and formed a special Facebook page which I immediately signed on to.
Although I had been writing a blog for several years about experiences in cat and dog rescue and adoptions, I began to shift the focus then from companion animals to the plight and "war" against Canada geese.
I also felt it important to "log" everything I could about the geese, including their characters, behavior and life patterns in effort to counteract all the misinformation and vitriol about them.
The geese thus became in addition to already being a personal "research" project, a cause of particular devotion and focus.  And the direction of this blog entirely changed.
It could be said that after more than 20 years in companion animal rescue and placement, a part of me felt I had learned (and done) all that could be learned and sought to expand horizons.  But, I believe more to the point, I felt that with animals being brutalized, slaughtered and killed in virtually ever part of the planet, the one place we needed to draw the line was the so-called "peace and serenity" of our public parks.
If animals could not be safe in our city parks where could they ever be safe?
In the months that followed that fateful July 8th morning goose massacre, demonstrations were held for the geese and efforts were made to organize on their behalf. We learned that goose killings were not just specific to Prospect Park, but in fact were occurring all over New York City and were part of a larger plan by the Mayor of New York and various federal, state and city agencies to "rid" New York City of its "resident" goose population.
Meanwhile, I continued to observe and write about the special Turtle Pond goose family, as well as geese observed at Harlem Meer.
In August of 2010, all the geese of the family, including the goslings had developed their flight feathers and with the exception of Binky were ready to fly.  The parents taught the youngsters to fly and for several weeks began to fly short distances and return to Turtle Pond.  Binky, thus had to get used to short periods alone. 
But, eventually, the family had to leave to return to the "staging" site for geese (at that time, Harlem Meer.)
It was sad and pitiful the first night Binky was alone on the pond.
For the first time, he cried out, long and plaintive H---O----N----K---S continually swimming on the pond searching and calling out for his family.
The family actually returned a few times after that, to presumably "check" on the welfare of their flightless gosling, but they would leave again after a day or so to return to gathering site.  They prepared Binky well for the challenges ahead and for being on his own.
Eventually, Binky learned to hang with the mallards and to take more cautions than would be otherwise normal with a gaggle of geese or his family around.
Though only a few months old, it is truly amazing how smart and adaptable Canada geese actually are.  (What 4-month old puppy or kitten could survive entirely on his/her own?)
Around that time, I spoke with Park Rangers about the future for Binky, as Turtle Pond entirely freezes over in the winter and all the mallards leave.
It was determined to allow Binky to stay at Turtle Pond until shortly before it would freeze over and then to arrange a rescue for him.
That actually occurred in November of last year. Binky was rescued and sent to a private and apparently wealthy estate owner who had taken in similar compromised birds in the past.
But, meanwhile the struggle for the geese as a species remained and in fact, intensified as has been logged in this daily journal over the past year.
But, now I find myself at a kind of crossroads.
How does one observe, research and write about a subject that has all but disappeared from his/her scope of vision?
One can of course share articles and other information.  But, that is not the same as personal observations.
Last night, when walking home from a once again, devoid of any geese, Harlem Meer, I cynically and bitterly thought to myself:
"Thanks, Mr. Mayor.  Thanks USDA for literally killing my research project in the middle of its creation."
Over the years, I have wondered why, with all the research projects, films and books devoted to learning about rare and exotic species, we have so few devoted to the most prevalent and adaptable species among us -- i.e. those species of animals we actually live with or around, such as pigeons, sparrows, raccoons or Canada geese?
Perhaps that's because we are too busy demonizing, killing and taking for granted, those who dare to live anywhere around humans?
Apparently, even I made the mistake of "taking for granted" the Canada geese in my park.
Despite being fully knowledgeable of the egregious circumstances and eradication campaigns against them, I somehow thought the geese I came to know in Central Park -- including the many dozens who "gathered" and stayed for brief periods in in the spring and fall at Harlem Meer -- would somehow "adapt" and survive the predations.
But, I find myself now looking at blank pages.
Not the blank pages of a computer screen.
But, the empty pages of research -- and lives interrupted.  --
And instead of writing about the lives and life patterns of geese, I am writing about their disappearances and destruction.

No comments: