By Steve Terr
After being hunched over my drafting table for hours, my stiffening, aging joints demand attention. It is time to take a break, stand up, stretch and go for a walk. Once downstairs, I put on a hat, pick up my sketchbook and kindle and pop them into a small knapsack. Put on a pair of shoes, open the front door and step out into a world resplendent with sunshine and a welcoming breeze. My plan is to head for Nosreka Lake, about 1 mile away, sit on the bench provided by the village of Brightwaters and spend some satisfying time reading and/or sketching. The bench is situated at the southern end of this small lake. It provides a pleasant view of a modest island that the human residents have named “Duck Island.” Duck Island is claimed, every year, by a pair of mute swans as a prime nesting spot and superb neighborhood for raising their cygnets. Canada geese also use this island to rear their goslings, although there is, at times, some dispute with the swans as to who really “owns” this island refuge.
As I settle in I am greeted by a small family of geese. There’s mom, dad and their three small, softly peeping, yellow fuzz balls subtly tinged and suffused with patches of gray. While the goslings are meandering around their mother, dad immediately lets me know of his displeasure with my presence, He menacingly struts toward me bobbing his head, his black bill agape, displaying a dark pink tongue and hissing. I say to him, “Hey, cousin, relax; calm down, nothing to worry about, I come in peace.” He warily accepts my presence.
I pull out my kindle and bring up Wordsworth’s poem “Tintern Abbey,” and begin to read…
“FIVE years have past; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from…”
But, what I hear, in my immediate vicinity, is the incessant peeping of Canada goose goslings, as they try to nestle up to mom, who is resting on the grass. After some jostling and jockeying, they collect behind her, settle down and get nice and comfy against her large, reassuring presence. However, this does not last very long as she laboriously rises up and briefly wanders around before she again lowers herself upon the ground. The goslings, in turn, get up and follow her and once again settle down. This entertaining ritual repeats a number of times until this gaggle of geese decide it’s time to take a family swim in the lake. I watch this little flock line up into a formal procession; dad in front of the three young’uns and mom bringing up the rear. All amble down a steep bank, into the water and paddle about near the shoreline.
As I watch, I notice, off in the distance, the elegant profile of a mute swan, its pure white luminous silhouette glowing in the middle of the lake. This gorgeous silhouette is reflectively duplicated in the calm dark waters of Nosreka Lake. Duck Island is nearby where the swan has its nest hidden in the luxuriant lushness of foliage that festoons this solitary refuge.
For a while everything is going along swimmingly for the goose family and, seemingly, for the gently floating swan. But then…
As if it were a large sailboat the swan slowly comes about to face where I and the frolicking geese are situated. Its formerly placid presence on the lake begins to change. It has noticed the goose family in its territory. The once peaceful water ripples outward from the prow of this feathered frigate as it moves in our direction. Its speed noticeably increases; the large white wings are fluffed up like billowing sails. The semi-folded wings arch out over its flanks and up over its back, greatly increasing the apparent size of this already imposing bird. And then in a flash the large white wings extend and noisily beat about the air and pound the water, churning up a foaming wake, injecting menacing chaos in the previously placid lake. A white typhoon is now bearing down of the invading geese. The happy, entertaining and amusing little goose family that I see is instinctually taken to be, by the swan, intruders and an existential threat; time and patience have run out. The long graceful neck stretches forward and becomes a battering ram, as the surging swan crashes into the startled goose family.
The geese are completely panicked. The water churns into a frenzy of splashes and foam mixing with swirling black, white, brown and gray feathers, wildly flapping wings, loud goose honks. The goslings can neither be heard nor seen. They disappear in the boiling water and chaotic splashes. Even though the male goose is smaller, it turns to toward the aggressor. But its intention is not to directly confront this menace but to get the attention of the intruder and distract it from destroying his family. The swan takes the bait, veers toward the male goose which quickly starts to strenuously swim, with energetically flapping wings and paddling feet, away from his mate and little ones. Once he succeeds in luring the swan away, he turns back to quickly join the family group. They have left the lake and are on the shore where he joins them. It was a breathless and shocking thing to watch. So concentrated had my attention been to this explosion of violence that I now feel like I have awoken from a trance.
As I look at the group of geese I notice to my horror that there are only two goslings onshore! The parents must also have noticed this appalling loss, as they both begin frantically honking over and over. I can hear no answering peep. Then I see the swan is returning to where we are recuperating from its assault. The geese will not re-enter the water as the swan lurks close by. I pick up a small stick and throw it at the swan and hit it a glancing blow. This causes it to swim some distance away. But the geese never return to the water. They start to walk away. I find this very disturbing. I go to the bank and anxiously look along the shoreline for the missing gosling. After some fretful minutes looking up and down the bank, there it is under some overhanging bushes trying to figure a way onto dry land. I call out to the goose family to come back. They ignore me. Frustrated, I look back and, happily see the stranded gosling has somehow made it up the bank and is heading toward its family which it eventually rejoins. A great sense of relief washes over me as I sit down, once again, upon the bench.
The reunited goose family continues to wander off over the small bridge that spans the outflow of water from the main body of Nosreka Lake. The swan paddles back to the middle of the lake. I sit for a while longer thinking about the incident which I just witnessed and in which I had participated. All is still, some fish crows call in the distance. The sun is setting. I gather up my stuff and start for home.
Illustration by Steve Terr