Monday, April 13, 2009

Goose World

Sunday April 12, 2009:

The sky, a misty grey hangs low above us as we walk through the moistness. It’s so early on Easter morning, we almost have the world to ourselves. Only the birds trill and halloo to each other from amongst the newly budding trees.

Girdled by softly humming traffic, Finsbury Park lies neatly before us. From time to time an occasional panting runner disturbs the peace as the fairground workers quietly begin their set-up. WE walk on, past the silent café, drawn towards the lake by the honking geese flying low above it.

Disappointingly for me, municipal anxiety about health and safety has fenced off this lake. Abandoning the fantasy to sit under a willow and commune with the webbed-footed ones in their habitat, we walk its circumference, searching for the best place to connect with the geese and ducks, a vantage point from which we can feed them and experience their cheerful waddling, grumpy quarrelling and sheer greed without being in beak range.

I lean over the fence and proffer a morsel of hot cross bun to the bossily honking goose not two feet away. The wind scatters the crumbs as the pigeon, geese and ducks close in. The message has got round fast; it’s breakfast time!

Casting the circle, I call the spirit of the birds to be with me as my companion reads from The Kalevala :

“In the beginning there was water. In the beginning there was nothing but grey water, and flying over the water there was a golden-eye.

She was looking for somewhere to build her nest. She flew east and west; there was nowhere. She flew north and south; there was no speck or spit of land. There was only wind and wave.

The mother of the water took pity on the bird. The mother of the water raised her knee above the surface of the water. Like a bank of sand, the knee of the mother of the water rose up above the waves.

The golden-eye landed on the knee. It seemed a good place; she made her nest there.

She laid seven eggs: six were golden, the last was iron. She settled down on her nest. She brooded for a day; the eggs of gold and iron were warm. She brooded for a second day; the eggs of gold and iron were hot. She brooded for a third day; the eggs of gold and iron were burning the leg of the mother of the water. They were scorching her skin. She felt as though her sinews were melting in a terrible fire. The mother of the water could bear it no longer. She twitched her knee.

The golden-eye flew up into the air and the eggs smashed into the sea. With a hiss of steam the mother of the water lowered her leg down into the grey waves.

The golden-eye was circling in the air, calling and crying to her broken eggs.
But a beautiful thing was happening. A strange and beautiful thing was taking place. The broken eggs were becoming a world.
The lower half of one egg became the world beneath, the top half of another became the sky above. The golden yolk of one became the shining sun, the white of another became the pale moon. A mottled shell became the stars in the sky. The dark shards of the iron shell became the dark clouds.
The golden-eye was circling the air inside a world of her own making.
And the mother of the sea rose up and saw this new world. She swung her hand through the waves and arranged the headlands, she made the coasts smooth with the underside of her arm, she lifted lands and continents, she sunk her heel into the deep hollows.
The golden-eye circled in the air above her and the wind whistled in her wings.
That was how our world began.”

I raise my great heavy wings, stretch out my long neck and lift up off from the lake’s bank. The world turns spiralling beneath me as I soar into the white sky.

Alone I fly, a great grey goose, wings spread like angel’s, my neck stretched, my great body dark against the light sky whilst beneath me, the world spins. She shows me her rivers and lakes, her seas and oceans. She shows me her hills and valleys, her forests and mountains. She shows me her great cities darkly clustered on the banks of wide rivers. I fly on.

Behind me the sun rises. A great winged shadow - my shadow – casts darkness over the land below. All is quiet as though a pall of sleep has fallen heavily, pinning the living world beneath .

Like a sleeper,the world turns again. The sun gleams upon the moving waters, lightens the dark lands and guilds the tree tops.

Below me, the lake lies, cool and grey in the morning light. Two women lean over the fence feeding the ducks and geese that cluster by the water’s edge. A hungry pigeon bobs its head respectfully as it pecks from an open palm.

Down, down, down into the lake I dive, emerging fluttering and honking, spraying water in all directions as I vigorously flap my great wings. In front of the women, a bossy Canada goose is ordering the quarrelling ducks about in the crumb flecked water.


It is dark. It is quiet and it is warm. I lie cushioned in softness, held in something hard yet slight. I move my head and where my beak touches, the brittle hardness breaks and I feel cool, cool air and the warm heaviness of something feathery and firm on top of me.

Something is poking at my pocket. Instinctively, I move backwards as the goose on the other side of the fence honks at me. I toss the remains of the seeds to her and she lets my leg alone.

“The water’s clear”, says my companion, beginning to describe some of the antics of the ducks ducking and diving in the lake. Several upend themselves and present their bottoms to the day. She wonders briefly if that yellowy duck with the tufty head is a golden-eye.

Ferreting in her bag she pulls out a piece of paper and begins to read from The Wind IN the Willows, by Kenneth Graham:

“DUCKS' DITTY.
All along the backwater,
through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling,
up tails all!

Ducks' tails, drakes' tails,
Yellow feet a-quiver,
Yellow bills all out of sight
Busy in the river!

Slushy green undergrowth
Where the roach swim
Here we keep our larder,
Cool and full and dim.

Everyone for what he likes!
WE like to be
Heads down, tails up,
Dabbling free!

High in the blue above
Swifts whirl and call
WE are down a-dabbling
up tails all!”



“Brrrr” It’s a bit cold. Time for a duck’s dance!” I say, beginning to flap my arms and waddle, feet turned out.

“Don’t forget to stick your bottom out too”, comments my companion, matching her words with actions. I stick out my bottom and begin quacking, waddling and flapping.

“I think it’s time for breakfast” I say, slightly out of breath. “Let’s open the circle and get going shall we?”


My companion reaches into her capacious bag and pulls out yet another piece of paper.

“Before we go …” she says and begins to read From “Song of Myself”, by Walt Whitman:
“My tread scares the wood-drake and wood-duck on my distant and day-long ramble,
They rise together, they slowly circle around.

I believe in those wing'd purposes,
And acknowledge red, yellow, white, playing within me,
And consider green and violet and the tufted crown intentional,
And do not call the tortoise unworthy because she is not something else,
And the jay in the woods never studied the gamut, yet trills pretty well to me,
And the look of the bay mare shames silliness out of me.

The wild gander leads his flock through the cool night,
Ya-honk he says, and sounds it down to me like an invitation,
The pert may suppose it meaningless, but I listening close,
Find its purpose and place up there toward the wintry sky.”

Walking back through the park, I imagine I am wearing “the tufted crown intentional” – headgear that is perhaps more purposeful than its cousin the (tufted) crown imperial”! . I waggle my head experimentally and quack cheerfully.
Silenced only by a double chocolate egg, I walk on munching. Behind us, a small group of geese rise up above the lake and honk their “goodbye”, - or is it “good riddance”?

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