When I finally sat down to choose the photos for this post, I ended up with 77 of them. I can’t choose. I watched that little family grow and took photographs every day. There are 1,760 of them. Many were taken simply as a record. Many are pretty good; so many that when I went through to choose ten or twelve for today’s post, my folder quickly filled … and there were a great many more that I could have chosen!!
It was fascinating watching them as their parents trained them for life. And it truly was training. The earliest photo I have of it was taken on June 8, a little over two months after my first photo.
The first evidence I saw that ‘Papa Goose’ was inciting it was on June 10. He would run behind them, squawking and flapping his wings. Although, ‘flapping’ isn’t really the best way to describe this – that denotes a smaller bird. Really, just the stance of him, standing fully upright, wings up-raised, ready to lift him into the air, or beat off an attacker in a moment. Regardless, it seemed to elicit an adrenalin response in the goslings who would run ahead, wings (such as they were in the beginning) outstretched. In the beginning, there was only one who truly responded. I came to think of him as Dad’s Lieutenant because over the next seven weeks he was never far from Papa’s side. Also, when there was a perceived danger and Dad sent them all into the pond, he allowed the Lieutenant to stay ashore increasingly frequently as the goslings matured.
At first, the adrenalin bursts didn’t last very long and it was obviously tiring to the little ones, who often collapsed in a heap of down afterward. Indeed, I’m convinced that they experienced pulled muscles, or at least sore and achy ones. The positions they got into sometimes while pruning after they started training were odd to say the least.
However, their stamina increased as they grew, as did their strength. By the middle of July, I knew it would not be long before they would take flight, and I longed to see it. Every time the seven of them took chase along the grass, wings at full mast, I would feel a wave of strength emanating from them. It was thrilling to see as they gained power.
Their markings gradually deepened until the only difference between them and their parents was a slightly downy and vaguely lighter shade of black on the neck and head. During this period, they grew perceptibly from morning to afternoon, eating the entire time it seemed. And I have the pictures to prove it!
During every one of my photo sessions, whether I was behind glass in my living room, or out on the lawn a respectful distance away, Papa would at some point turn his head and stare directly at me. He knew I was there. He knew we were there with our ginormous dog. He came to trust, however, that we would never harm his little ones and eventually stopped chivvying them into the pond immediately upon seeing us. He would only send them down to the pond’s edge. Then watch us.
“They’re flying!! They’re flying!!!” I was in the kitchen and H was in the lounge.
“OK, they’re only about four inches off the ground, but they’re flying!!” he bellowed. I was so jealous and a little indignant. I had been waiting for this moment … the moment when their wings had enough strength to free them from gravity. And I was missing it!!
I tore in, grabbing my camera, flipping it on and activating the zoom as I ran. They were already in the pond. After that I increased my vigilance, peering anxiously out the window every time I entered the room.
Two days later, we had just returned from the grocer and I leaned over the back of the couch to look out the window. To my right, from the corner of my eye, I saw them swoop down from behind the house. They were in perfect V-formation, Dad in the lead. My heart leaped, rebounding off my sternum and into my throat.
“They’re flying!!! They’re FLYING!!!!!” I yelled as I watched them ride the air over the trees on the other side of the pond. As they disappeared down behind the trees, my heart sank as though following their trajectory. When they reappeared, as if on a roller coaster, and soared above the trees at the end of the far pond before disappearing to the southeast, my heart soared too. I cannot fully express the exuberance I experienced watching them. Flying simply because they could and feeling completely in their element, they were in perfect formation and I swear, I could feel the joy coming at me in waves, with every beat of their wings. It brought me to tears. I didn’t even try to pick up my camera.
H came in a nano-second later, sorely disappointed at having missed this.
It felt odd not having them near. The area felt slightly empty. H quickly reassured me that they would be back because Canada Geese always return to the spot where they were reared.
The next morning, as he came into the lounge with his coffee, he told me to get my camera right away. The family was back, but they had come closer to the house than they ever had before. Not ten feet from my window, the seven of them ate leisurely. Dad, the Lieutenant not far away (he still wasn’t quite as big as Mama, but bigger than the other four), stood up from his grazing and looked at me through the window. This was the closest he had been to me when he did this and it was quite moving. I had the distinct impression that they were saying good-bye.
I haven’t seen them since. Several weeks on, I still look for them every time I walk into the lounge. But I will never forget the feeling of watching them take what I am certain must have been their first full flight.
What a precious gift.