the distressed goose
|Joanne McNeil||Jan 17, 2019|
After the new year, I went for a walk around a frozen lake. That is not the sort of thing I would normally do, but my dad got me micro-spikes for my boots for christmas, and all of a sudden a part of the natural world that would ordinarily be too difficult to enter was available to me.
There is a section of the lake near a dam that is partitioned off so swimmers and canoers won't enter and for some reason that section wasn't frozen over. I could hear a strange noise in that direction, so I walked toward it. There was a canada goose all alone. It was honking incessantly. Ever so often it would try to fly away, but it could only flap its wings helplessly and fail to lift itself from the water. It would swim back and forth and honk more frantically the closer it got to the barrier. I guess it had a problem with its wing and couldn't fly south for the winter. I wondered if it stayed in the water to avoid predators. Maybe it was starving too.
I called the Fish and Game Department, although it was a Saturday afternoon and I imagined no one would spring to action to respond to my call about a "distressed goose." It took about several calls through several different numbers and stepping outside the restaurant where I had dinner, just to return a call, but finally someone assured me they would take a look at the goose in the morning. I understand why *I* sprung into action: I had just listened to an animal plead for its life. It was excruciating to witness.
It is hard to explain how consumed I was with the matter of the goose that day, even after I spoke with the person who could handle it. In retrospect, I was like one of those middle-aged ladies who gets obsessed with trying to solve cold case murders — mentally and emotionally involved in something that is not my business and that I probably couldn’t change. I started googling things like "Brant Goose or canada goose" even though geese are just not very interesting animals (sorry to say, but it's true.) Later I found out there was an actual goose sanctuary that I should have called. I imagined that if I had called the goose sanctuary, I could have become part of its recovery and stopped by in the afternoons with breadcrumbs, giving the goose a name (well, I can still give it a name. "Mr. January" it is!) I read articles like this one about the Tufts Wildlife Clinic which includes the most perfect metaphor: "Tseng says that a wild animal’s trip to the Tufts clinic is similar to an alien-abduction experience. 'Every time we touch a wild animal, it thinks it’s going to be eaten...'”
I thought to myself: whatever happens this year or ever, it could be a lot worse. You could be a goose stranded behind a barrier, stuck in the water to avoid predation, unable to fly, all your friends now gone south.
The next day, I went to check on the goose. It was twenty degrees warmer that Sunday —still cold, but not freezing. I heard nothing and saw nothing in the lake behind the partition, and I assumed the Fish and Game Department had picked it up and taken it to a shelter. But then I continued to walk toward the edge of the lake. There, in the grass, was the goose — Mr January — it had to be the same goose. He was just strutting around as geese do. Not distressed in the least! In fact, he seemed pleased with himself like "hey, look at me. I got this whole lake to myself. Finally some peace and quiet around here!"
I still would not like to be that goose.
I finished Milkman after the holiday. It is not just a great novel, it is a great 21st century novel—a book that could hold its own on a list including literature over the course of a hundred years. I miss reading it. I hope everyone checks it out, because even if it's not for you, it is good to see what a novel can do and can be in 2019 (well, 2018.) Try the first hundred pages...the very start is a little off-putting but then it keeps getting more compelling and complex. Every time I began to think the story was narrow — just some poor Irish teenager and her drama — Anna Burns zoomed out with commentary on surveillance and life in wartime delivered with the lightest touch. She makes it look so easy.
At some point I'm going to listen to the audiobook, because while there's a lot going on in the story, it is told conversationally (I was so worried I'd have to look up all this weird Irish slang and nearly didn't read the book for that reason. But I only once had to consult google and that was for the word "crombie." That’s some kind of jacket fwiw.)
It is about a girl who is stalked by a much older man. I have never seen stalking depicted this way and with such accuracy: how it feels when someone believes themselves entitled to you and how it alters other people's perception of you — things like how bystanders don't just misunderstand, they believe the victim is crazy, because there is no way to articulate what's happening without sounding crazy. I’m glad to have it as a reference for this particular kind of abuse instead of Rosemary’s Baby (which I love and struggle with, because of its director.) The story is told inside a broader context of societal distrust through the troubles, revealing how a political situation poisons personal lives and how identities are shaped in relation to it. All this, and the book is fun and incredibly funny. Just so good.
The other good thing I read over the holiday was SEEDS, a new comic series by my friend Annie Nocenti:
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Thanks for reading.