01 August 2011


He stood behind the ravaged corpse, blood staining his hands, no apology in his black eyes. The white wall behind him was dotted with crimson handprints as if he had been creating art out of gore.
When I have no words to express what's going on inside, sometimes a line from a poem nails my feeling. As I looked at the carnage, a question from Stanley Kunitz' The Layers came to mind: "How shall my heart be reconciled to its feast of losses?"
Then came a question spoken aloud by my husband Dave: "What do you want to do with him?"
What indeed?
I love geese. In particular, I love Chinese geese, the most cantankerous, ornery and aggressive of all breeds of domesticated geese. But also the most garrulous. They always have something to say, will offer an opinion on anything.
Several years back Dave and I reared two Chinese goslings. I have warm memories of going out to pick wild black raspberries one summer, leading a parade of two humans, a raccoon foundling, a dog, cat and two young geese. We all of us picked raspberries, even if only two of us deposited any in the bucket.
I love geese. I love their antics, their gregariousness, their individual temperaments. I see myself in their headlong rush to catch up, being too dense to find simple routes through barriers, the way they think they know it all, imagine themselves far bigger and braver than they are.
The woods around us teem with predators: fox, coyote, raccoon. Probably a weasel or two, as well. We'd had the geese two or three years when some creature of the night killed them, first one then the other. After the second strike, I wandered the yard weeping, clutching a white feathered body to my chest. Eventually my arms grew tired. I dug a grave. A friend gave us a concrete goose statue to mark the site.
These wondrously recalcitrant creatures had been my teachers about life, anger, self-centeredness and getting along with others. And now they were dead.
We've been gooseless the last few years and I didn't realize how much I missed the excited trumpet call of a welcome, soft murmurs of grassy contentment, the way a goose always gets the last word. Didn't remember until this spring when we came home from the farmers' supply store with three goslings, two white Chinese and a gray-brown Toulouse. I was in heaven.
They lived in a box in the dining room the first two weeks, then in a corner of the basement until they were big enough to sleep outdoors in a predator-proof cage. During the day we gave them run of a large pen with a goosecote (a doghouse-like structure) for shelter. Then Dave and I returned from an afternoon trip to town to find one of our Chinese geese missing from the pen. We beefed up security, but about a week later, a second goose disappeared. I looked for her, looked for feathers, evidence of (forgive me) fowl play. I saw nothing. Poor feathered thing. I hoped the end was quick.
Dave conducted a more thorough search. He shone a flashlight into the back of the goosecote. "Come look," he called.
I looked. There was my beloved Chinese goose, snow white feathers spattered with blood, body rent asunder. And there, at the back of the cote, caught literally red-handed, a raccoon, staring up with beady eyes.
What to do? Dave put this question to me. I considered the options. Did I want to get a gun, blow the back out of the goosecote and the hell out of the murderer? I could get a pitchfork, impale the hard-hearted creature. Or seal up the door, let it starve to death.
"Let's let him go," I said to Dave. "The woods are full of raccoons. What will we accomplish by killing this one?"
I removed the dead goose from the cote, let the wild creature be. Dug a grave near the concrete statue. The spade turned up a white grub, ugly toothsome creature with a grey butt, orange-yellow face and legs. I focused my anger on that grub, held it back, threw it to the banty chicks temporarily housed in the basement. They looked askance at it until the biggest of them pecked at it, found it to his liking, chawed it down.
Even in death, geese teach me about dealing with loss: mourn what is taken, give focus to anger, let go resentment and revenge, honor the departed, allow life to feed life, learn that to love is to risk loss. Know it's worth it.

Bryn Marlow lives in Indiana on a 1930s farmstead with his husband Dave who mopes about the house saying, "I can't stop thinking about that poor grub." This letter appeared in the August issue of The Community Letter. Photo credit: Rocket Ship,

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