Events of the past few weeks -- particularly the unfathomable roundup and slaying of up to 500 Canada geese from Jamaica Bay Wildlife "Refuge" this past Tuesday -- had a strangely numbing and crushing effect upon both, the body and the senses.
Every step felt as though I was sinking into the ground.
But, when arriving to the Jackie Onassis Reservoir, the 17 geese there immediately recognized me from across the watercourse and quickly headed in my direction.
Spirits suddenly lifted.
One of the geese was flying!
In light of the brutal and despicable goose massacres occurring all around the city, one can only breathe great sigh of relief when still being able to bask in the warm greetings from our known and feathered friends:
"Hi there! Good to see you again!"
All the Reservoir geese accounted for, it would have been easy to assume the safety of all Central Park geese and return home.
But, feeling rejuvenated and energized, I wanted to visit Papa goose and his flock of 12 at the Boat Lake.
"Papa" is an old gander, who, with his long time mate, "Mama" raised six goslings at Turtle Pond in 2010. (Papa is also pictured on my Facebook badge tending to his babies at that time.) Papa is easily recognizable due to a profound limp on his left leg which he has had for years.
Sadly, Mama did not seem to make it through the past year.
A very old goose like her mate, Mama was not in great shape last year when going through the summer molt. When at last her flight feathers grew in, Mama bravely flew out of Central Park with Papa and the rest of the gaggle last August, but has not been seen since.
Papa has not taken on a new mate, but he has taken on the helm of leadership of the gaggle of 12 at the Boat Lake. (Battle scars on the front of his chest.)
Geese (unlike humans) are very revered of their elders. Age seems to be a badge of honor and respect in goose communities as opposed to something to be feared and avoided at all costs.
As he always does, Papa led his troops to greet me yesterday.
I sat on a small rock and just chilled in the beauty, tranquility and peace surrounding me.
Papa and a couple of the youngsters nibbling cracked corn from my hand, while several other geese preened and bathed in the water nearby.
For all the complaints about how "dirty" the "poop" they leave, Canada geese are extremely clean and fastidious birds. I see them endlessly preening and splashing water to keep themselves spotlessly clean. One can spend up to an hour around the geese and not see one of them poop.
Sometimes the flock separates. In that case, the geese "call" across the water to share their locations and eventually reunite.
This occurred yesterday when a few of the more wary geese were spooked by a passing dog and took off for the other side of the lake. They disappeared out of sight.
"Hey, we are over on the north side. Should we start heading your way?"
"Yes, swim south and we will meet you in the middle of the lake by the island rock." Papa honked back with authority.
Ultimately, all the geese reunited in the middle of the water and swam off together. It was fascinating to listen to and see.
Oh, and how other waterfowl appreciate the geese!
The previous day I had been to Harlem Meer where there is a "loner" goose who flew in less than two weeks ago -- presumably from having escaped a USDA goose roundup elsewhere in the city.
I feel sorry for this particular goose. Knowing how devoted, attached and dependent geese are to their mates and flocks, a lone goose is a sorry sight indeed. Not only to grieve for the loss of kind, but also to try and survive as nature does not intend for geese.
But, it seems this lone goose is not so "alone" after all.
A mama mallard and her tiny ducklings have apparently decided that the lonely goose serves well as a makeshift, temporary "daddy" and protector. Mama mallard sometimes left her babies with the goose while she proceeded to chase away other mallards. What better than a Canada goose to watch the kids while mama attends to other duties?
I have always maintained that mallards are among nature's greatest opportunists.
A goose without a flock is a sad sight to see, but to a mallard it is easy and available opportunity for added security and protection.
In turn, the goose reaps some benefits in terms of group security and companionship from the presence of ducks. The loner Harlem Meer goose always roosts with the ducks in the evenings.
But, in a couple of weeks, (when regaining flight), this lonely goose will need to head out in search of his own kind again. And though the going will be tough in terms of being eventually accepted into a new gaggle of geese, it will happen in time. Geese are very good that way (regardless of the sex of the newcomer goose).
There is in fact, a "loner" goose who flew into the Boat Lake less than two weeks ago (probably escaping a USDA cull like the first goose at Harlem Meer.) This goose always stays carefully around the perimeter of the existing goose family.
Papa gander is very aware of the newcomer goose's presence but makes no attempt to chase her off or give her grief. Papa is in fact, a very charitable goose who in the past, has accepted orphaned or widowed geese. As long as they are respectful and adhere to the "rules" they will eventually be welcomed and embraced as part of the family. But, first they have to accept the role of "low goose on the totem pole" and keep their respectful distance.
All the loner geese observed in the past (and now) appear to understand and follow those rules very well.
Geese appear to have very long established patterns of behavior, family and flock order, respect and cooperation.
This is every bit as true on the ground as in the air. It is one of the prime reasons for the high survival rates of Canada geese.
"High survival rates" that unfortunately in the human world stir, not admiration or emulation, but on the contrary, attempt to annihilate.
Finally leaving the Boat Lake yesterday, I was both rejuvenated from having spent time with "my" geese and despaired for the knowledge of what is happening to their brethren elsewhere.
Images and memories of geese honking to reunite, splashing in the water to keep clean and slowly accepting orphaned or widowed geese into their flocks suddenly juxtaposed with horrifying images from Jamaica Bay of terrorized and panicked geese imprisoned in crates, tumbling over each other and crying for release.
"Who will lead us to safety out of here? What have we done? We don't understand. What are the rules here?"
But, of course there was no one to lead these geese to safety -- even their own brave and ever vigilant alpha ganders.
And rules of order have long fallen by the wayside. There is only chaos now -- and doom at human hands.
I was walking along the East Park Drive when suddenly thinking these things.
Those geese wanted to live, too.
They wanted to splash in the water, raise their young, establish their orders and strengthen their bonds.
They too, were looking to flying again in two weeks and seeking out their fall and gathering places prior to the winter migrations.
But, none of it was to be.
Refuge: "Shelter or safety from danger."
These several hundred geese, (like Papa) had carefully and skillfully sought out a place of seeming amenities and safety for the summer molt.
But, the danger turned out to be from within.
How could the geese know that the location they chose to be vulnerable would use that vulnerability against them? How could they know that a so-called "refuge" would turn out to be the ultimate betrayer of its own name?
Of course the hapless geese had no way of knowing any of that. They don't understand the new human rules that curse and condemn their very existence.
Suddenly tears of shame began to fill my eyes and stream down my face. I stopped and raised my hands to cover my face so that others would not see. (They will think me nuts.)
But, not to worry.
The hundreds of people running beside me had eyes fixed on the road ahead and saw nothing.
But, at the Reservoir, a Canada goose is already flying.
I may be the only one to see and appreciate the significance of that.
But, I am grateful. -- PCA