Friday, January 30, 2009

Girl Story Chapter 3 Continued

The Story of the Girl begins with the posting on January 8th. My true account spans a four-year period from 2001-2005. This is the third and final chapter.

The Story of the Girl
Chapter Three continued

A small flock of Canada Geese finally returned in July, but the Girl was not with them. Still, I refused to lose hope. Though I sometimes left the dam with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, I told myself: not yet. I would wait until August.

August came and went and still the Girl had not returned and likely never would. I finally faced the truth: more than 80 inches of snow had fallen that historic winter and my worst fear had come to pass.

The Girl had perished.

I imagined several scenarios, but one seemed more probable than all the others: unable to fly long enough with the flock to find refuge along the coast, the Girl had found herself grounded for weeks at a time, forced to survive amid mountains of snow. Had she died alone or did the wild goose I thought might be her mate perish with her? Did she succumb to starvation, hypothermia or coyotes? I would never know. And yet, I knew. be continued

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Girl Story Chapter 3 Continued

(photo by L. Bolick)

The Story of the Girl begins with the posting on January 8th. My true account spans a four-year period from 2001-2005. This is the third and final chapter.

The Story of the Girl

Chapter Three continued

The summer passed quickly with few sightings of the Girl at the dam. I was relieved to see her there in September and October, knowing that hunting season for migratory waterfowl had already begun, and living with Canada Geese meant that the Girl was as much a target as they were. I saw her again in November, but I knew it would not be long before the flock moved to their winter location, wherever that was. It had to be nearby because, like all domestic geese, the Girl lacked the wingspan and endurance to fly long distances.

As 2005 began, I should have expected the worst, but like so many New Englanders, I was unprepared for the tremendous amount of snowfall to come. Meteorologists declared January alone, with more than 53 inches of snow on the ground, to be the snowiest in 113 years.

Arctic cold and wind chills well below zero ushered in what seemed like an endless succession of frigid nights. As always, I thought of the Girl and wondered how she was managing in this, her fourth winter in the wild. I took comfort in the knowledge that she was with her flock and had learned the skills to survive.

By March, I was restless and eager to look for the Girl. I had circled the 6th on my calendar and when the day came, I drove to the dam. When I did not find her, or any other waterfowl, I thought little of it. I continued to check every week or so for the rest of March, April and May, but without success. By June, a few Mallards had returned, but no geese. It was puzzling; in four years I had not witnessed such a dearth of waterfowl at the dam.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Girl Story Chapter 3 Continued

The Story of the Girl begins with the posting on January 8th. My true account spans a four-year period from 2001-2005. This is the third and final chapter.

The Story of the Girl
Chapter Three continued

On close inspection, I noticed a slight curl on her right foot. She had suffered some minor frostbite on the webbing around her toes, but other than appearing a tad unsightly, it didn’t impede her movement in any way. After three harsh winters in the wild, a touch of frostbite was inevitable for a domestic goose.

I checked often, but did not see the Girl again until May. For the first time I found it difficult to track her whereabouts and knew this was further evidence of her becoming wild. Her tendency to hang around the dam had been replaced by a desire to stay with the flock. She had learned to find food and shelter from them and was no longer dependent on handouts.

By summer the flock chose to spend more time at the dam again and seeing the Girl swimming in the shallows was a reassuring sight. Sometimes, in the late afternoon, I arrived just as the flock had decided to gather on some cue, imperceptible to me, then rise up in unison and fly down river to nest for the evening.

The Girl recognized me as before and never failed to return my greetings with loud honkings of her own, but now she frequently ignored the corn I offered her because she had successfully adapted to the wild.

In the weeks that followed I visited the dam less often. Though looking after her had become a ritual I enjoyed and a labor of love, it was obvious that the Girl no longer needed me. In transforming herself from a kept, domestic goose to one that was wild and free, she had set me free as well.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Girl Story Chapter Three

The Story of the Girl begins with the posting on January 8th. My true account spans a four-year period from 2001-2005. This is the third and final chapter.The Story of the Girl

Chapter Three
“And we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them.” — Thornton Wilde

Resilient as the Girl was, many other waterfowl were not so lucky. In the winter of 2004, scores of them fell victim to January’s unprecedented, month-long cold spell, and biologists observed that Canada Geese were especially hard hit. One evening, the news confirmed it: as the reporter spoke, a camera panned an icy riverbank where several frozen carcasses lay strewn like forgotten toys, their feathers ruffling eerily in the icy wind. That image haunted me.

All birds have strong homing instincts and geese are no exception. Exactly how and why this instinct works remains a mystery, but some scientists attribute it to their ability to sense the Earth’s magnetic fields and use the sun and stars to navigate direction. Others believe their genetic programming enables them to respond to visual guides, such as landmarks and bodies of water.

The Girl followed her homing instinct and returned to the dam on March 6, 2004, marking the end of the coldest winter in Massachusetts since 1888. It was the same date she had returned after her first winter in the wild two years earlier. I can’t explain why, but I felt compelled to look for her that very day. The fact that she had waited until June to return in 2003 gave me pause. But, like the Girl, I followed my instinct anyway.

Driving home from Sunday brunch at a nearby country inn, I found myself taking a detour to the dam. As I approached, I could see the Girl from the road, standing on the bank with her flock. An immense feeling of relief flooded through me as I hurried to greet her. Once more, against all odds, the Girl had survived a long and brutal New England winter. Each year since she and her flock had been abandoned, I had marked her return as a joyous event. But now I was more than happy, I was grateful.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Girl Story Chapter 2 Continued

The Story of the Girl begins with the posting on January 8th.

The Story of the GirlChapter Two continued

I visited the Girl regularly during the spring, summer and fall of 2003. She was always happy to see me but not always interested in food, which meant she was faring well.

One day I arrived just as she and the flock were getting ready to move down river. I hardly expected her to stay behind just to visit with me and told her so. A very intelligent goose, the Girl wanted to think it over. She looked at the flock swimming away and then at me several times until, finally, she hopped up onto the bank, ate some corn, had a brief chat, and then flew off to catch up with the flock.

On hot afternoons in July and August the Girl would gaze longingly at the corn bucket but refuse to leave the cool water. I found a way to stretch out and lean over the embankment so that all she had to do was swim over and stick her bill into a cup filled to the rim with corn.

“Lazy Girl,” I would tease her, as she honked and beeped happily in between gulps. It was the least I could do. I had caused her enough trouble.

China White geese love sweets and the Girl was no different. She had become a junk food junkie, greedily gobbling the doughnuts, cookies and bread that visitors brought to feed the waterfowl. She was bold and walked right up to people sitting on benches eating their lunches. I worried that begging made her vulnerable to harm, so I rarely touched her myself, much as I wanted to. If, I reasoned, she became accustomed to me petting her, she might let someone else who had other intentions.

Through the autumn, the Girl ate all the corn I could feed her, which helped her put on much needed fat for the winter. In November I often found her alone at the dam and worried that her adopted flock had flown off and left her behind. I was relieved to see her there on Thanksgiving Day accompanied by three Canada Geese. One seemed protective of her and might have become her mate. The Girl gorged herself on corn while her wild companions waited patiently, nibbling on weeds that still remained in the shallows. When she left to join them, I said goodbye and wished her well.

A few days later a Nor’easter brought nearly three feet of snow, but it all melted during a mild spell two weeks later. When the temperature hovered near 60 degrees, I decided to look for the Girl in case she was hungry. I took it as a good sign that she wasn’t there.

In January relentless, record-breaking cold locked up the rivers and streams. A luminous full Wolf Moon cast silver shadows across the frozen landscape, and bursts of powdery snow from distant ocean squalls dusted the hemlocks white.

When the temperature dipped below zero, as it did so many nights, my thoughts turned to the Girl. I hoped she had shelter – domestic geese suffer frostbite easily. I knew her ability to survive two winters in the wild was a testament to her extraordinary strength and will, but I had hoped the winter of 2004 would be kinder to her.

For as long as I can remember I have always been drawn to geese. Sometimes I wonder if I am some incarnation of their kind. One day I want to live in a farmhouse with acres of land and a pond for China Whites. They will have a sturdy barn with beds of hay to sleep in on cold winter nights and all the corn they can eat.

Until then, I wanted to look after the Girl for as long as the Fates allowed. Her friendship had become a wellspring of solace and cheer. Her unfailing memory of me matched my happy dedication to her. She was a constant reminder that hope gives life meaning. Loving her had made me better than I was. be continued

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Girl Story Chapter 2 Continued

The Story of the Girl begins with the posting on January 8th

The Story of the Girl
Chapter Two continued

When June arrived, I told myself that instead of going to look for the Girl, I would just sit under the willows and write, and enjoy the company of the ducks and geese. As I drove along the road facing the dam, I could see them grazing along the riverbank and preening on the rocks.

But then, I thought I saw something else.

I parked the car and hurried along the path that led to the stone wall, where just below was a grassy slope leading down to the river. There, among the Canada Geese, looking very pleased with herself, stood the Girl. Perhaps, sensing my presence, she paused and looked up toward where I stood.

“Hey Girl!” I called.
She honked excitedly. I ran back to the car to get the corn I had been keeping in the trunk, then scrambled down the hill to greet her. Grass was plentiful now, but she might still be hungry.

The Girl hurried toward me, calling loudly. She ate the corn I offered her, honking and squeaking her enthusiasm, the way she does when she’s happy. She continued talking as if recounting her long adventure.

I inspected every inch of her while she ate. She appeared well fed. There was no sign of frostbite on her bill or feet, her feathers were smooth and her eyes, still the same Delft blue, were clear and bright. I was amazed to see her in such good condition.

It was the sixth of June.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Girl Story Chapter Two

The Story of the Girl begins on January 8th. 

Chapter Two 
"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened." — Anatole France

The winter of 2003 was the harshest in a decade. Storms unleashed their fury in quick succession, battering the region with snow, ice and frigid temperatures. Shoveling the driveway was something I did often and in shifts, making grids, thinking, the way writers do, about stories, characters and the past. I worried about the Girl, and then chided myself for believing she was still alive. I didn’t realize it then, but mentally, I had already gone back on Girl Watch.

Spring arrived late and then in fits and starts – daffodils and grape hyacinths dotted a landscape still littered with snow banks. Swollen rivers raged from the melting snow, and the waters of the Charles crashed furiously over the dam where the Girl had spent most of her time. The river remained in that unfriendly state well into April, until gradually, a few Mallards and some Canada Geese returned. But not the Girl, and when May came there was still no sign of her. Surely, she would have returned by then – if she was still alive. Memorial Day passed and still the Girl was nowhere to be found.

Unable to abandon hope, without knowing why, I continued to look for her. Besides, I loved visiting the dam and watching the seasons come into their fullness. Now, wands of green willow branches hung down in arches, their leaves like graceful fingers trailing along the water’s surface. Crabapple trees, studded with pink blossoms, attracted whorls of bees that hovered happily in the morning sun. River swallows returned to do their aerial dances, swooping and diving to catch insects high above the rushing water. No hour I spent there was ever wasted, nor would be.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Girl Story Continued

The Story of the Girl begins with on January 8th.

Chapter One, continued

In the autumn of 2002, the Girl was thinner than usual. Harsh weather set in early and suddenly, she was gone. I searched the river ways but she was nowhere to be found. One morning, a few weeks later, I saw a white shape floating lifelessly on the river. But even with binoculars it was too far away to be certain.

I continued to look for the Girl whenever I could. Watching Canada Geese in chevron flight, I searched for a sign that she was among them, but found none. I knew that the odds were very much against her surviving another winter in the wild.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Girl Story Continued

The Story of the Girl begins with the posting on January 8th.

Chapter One, continued

On Christmas Day I went to feed the Girl and noticed that she was hungrier than usual. A few days later I returned to feed her again but she was gone. By New Year’s Day the river was frozen and snow covered the grassy slopes where she liked to graze. I hoped she had gone with the Canada Geese – they knew where to find food and open water.

Then, one day in early March I felt compelled to go to the dam and look for her, though I'd seen no sign of her since Christmas. And there she was, among the Canada Geese, thinner than before but otherwise fine. I knew a mild winter had played a large part in her survival, but seeing her alive and well still seemed like a miracle.

Over that spring and summer the Girl continued to recognize and greet me whenever I visited her, and though she ate the corn I brought her, she was becoming more like the members of her adopted flock – wild.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Girl Story continued

The Story of the Girl begins with the posting on January 8th.
Chapter One, continuedA crew was sent to the dam to capture the flock, but they botched the job and only managed to catch five. The sixth, a female who happened to be a strong flyer (highly unusual for a domestic goose), was so frightened she flew off across the river. Rather than try again to capture the entire flock, the crew took the five and left her there alone.

The manager at the wildlife center ignored my pleas to send the crew back for her. He showed no concern for the fact that without her flock she was more vulnerable than ever to the cold (it was December now), coyotes and starvation. Later, a woman who runs a sanctuary for abused and abandoned animals told me she had heard from a reliable source that many of the waterfowl "rescued" by the wildlife center were, in fact, slaughtered, something that haunts me still.

I fed the lone female more often now even though she still had the company of the Canada Geese. I felt responsible for her unhappy fate. And, though she recognized me, ate the food I brought her and returned my calls of "Hey, Girl!" with enthusiastic honks, she was not the same. Watching her call and search the river way for her flock was heartbreaking.

She truly grieved.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Girl Story continued

The Story of the Girl begins with the posting on January 8th.
Chapter One, continued

I bought them corn and a nutritious feed, formulated specifically for geese, to help them put on fat as the weather grew colder, and fed them as often as I could. They came to know me, respond to my calls and follow me. They even allowed me to pet them.

I decided to find a sanctuary for them, discouraging anyone who wanted to take them "off my hands," as this often meant the geese would end up on someone's dinner table. I was relieved when a wildlife center agreed to take them. Though there was no room for the geese at the Center, the manager assured me that the flock would be rescued and taken to a waterfowl sanctuary.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Story of the Girl continued

The Story of the Girl begins with the posting on January 8th.

Chapter One, continued
China Whites are extremely curious and chatty and very good with small children. They are often kept for the beauty they bring to a pond. But as winter approached, I worried. China Whites are a lightweight, domestic breed susceptible to severe cold. Normally housed in a barn every night, especially in winter, the flock would not survive without protection and a supplementary food source.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Story of the Girl

Beginning today, I am posting The Story of the Girl. My true account spans a four-year period from 2001-2005.

Chapter One
"Animals are not brethren, they are not underlings;
they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time. "
— Henry Beston

In the spring of 2001, someone abandoned a flock of six domestic China White Geese at a dam along the Charles River near my home. It was not until September that I began to notice their presence on a regular basis. They had joined a flock of Canada Geese and had learned to fend for themselves, surviving on a diet of grass; duckweed and the baked goods people fed them. As a frequent visitor to this scenic part of the Charles, I began to feed and befriend the flock. After the terrible events of September 11th, their beauty and innocence were comforting.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Magical Mockingbird

A very trusting Northern Mockingbird allowed me to take a few photographs even though it meant interrupting his meal of what I believe to be viburnum berries, and if I'm not mistaken, Viburnum wrightii.

Some believe that mockingbirds are magical. Below is a bit of Mockingbird lore: 
-Mockingbirds are symbols of hope and innocence.
-They will sometimes answer questions.
-If a mockingbird flies over the head of a single woman, she will be married within the year.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Happy New Year, Baby

Silver, an Icelandic colt born last summer, gets my vote for cutest New Year Baby and most uplifting symbol for 2009. Horses represent stamina, mobility, strength and power, coping under difficult circumstances, love, devotion, loyalty, energy and freedom – everything we need to manage the rush of change, intensity and turbulence that has become the new normal since he came into the world (he was born with a distinctively silver coat, which has obviously changed).
Like all Icelandic horses, Silver and his mom, Twinkles, are extremely intelligent and slow to mature. They aren’t full-grown until seven or eight years old and seldom ridden before four or five years old. 

January 2nd also marks the 34th anniversary of an important discovery in the natural world. Thanks to Writer's Almanac for this mention: 

On this day in 1975, an amateur naturalist, Kenneth Brugger, discovered where monarch butterflies from North America spend the winter. Scientists had been studying monarch migration for more than 30 years, and they had found out almost everything about the butterflies, except where they spent their winters.

Kenneth Brugger was an American textile engineer living in Mexico City. He remembered driving through a storm of monarchs once on a vacation, in the mountains west of Mexico City. He went back there, but he couldn't find anything, and the local farmers wouldn't give him any information. Then he brought his Mexican wife Catalina, and the locals warmed up. A farmer led them up the side of a remote mountain, up to 10,000 feet, and suddenly the fir trees were so thick with butterflies that they looked orange instead of green. Scientists estimated that there were 4 million butterflies per acre.

Brugger was elated, but he couldn’t fully appreciate what he was seeing – he was colorblind.