Posts Tagged ‘Canada Geese’

The Muds of March

March 14, 2010

March is here, the Sandhill Cranes are mostly gone, and the Canada Geese are leaving.  That means it’s time for our annual reminder of Aldo Leopold.

One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring.

A cardinal, whistling spring to a thaw but later finding himself mistaken, can retrieve his error by resuming his winter silence. A chipmunk, emerging for a sunbath, but finding a blizzard, has only to go back to bed.  but a migrating goose, staking two hundred miles of black night on the chance of finding a hole in the lake, has no easy chance for retreat.  His arrival carries the conviction of a prophet who has burned his bridges.

Leopold lived on a farm in Wisconsin so when he saw the geese in March, they were passing through on their way north. Writing sometime before 1948, he notes in his book A Sand County Almanac, that the geese he saw were well-educated and knew something about the Wisconsin statutes. In November, when flying south, the geese took a direct line over his farm and flew as high as they could get.  In the spring, they flew low, landed, and even idled about for a couple of weeks. The geese, Leopold hypothesized, knew that Wisconsin’s hunting laws allowed people to shoot them in November, but not in March. And so, natural selection marched on.

A March morning is only as drab as he who walks in it without a glance skyward, ear cocked for geese. I once knew an educated lady, banded by Phi Beta Kappa, who told me that she had never heard or seen the geese that twice a year proclaim the revolving seasons to her well-insulated roof. Is education possibly a process of trading awareness for things of lesser worth?  The goose who trades his is soon a pile of feathers.

As geese can be under-educated, and get shot in Wisconsin in November, humans can be over-educated and miss their connection to the earth. Of the ten known human species that so far have walked this planet, nine are extinct. Makes you nervous.

But, for now anyway, the geese fly and, “the whole continent receives as net profit a wild poem dropped from the murky skies upon the muds of March.”


The quotes are from A Sand County Almanac, “March: The Geese Return.”

Geese Brains

January 5, 2010

Our readers know that calling someone a “bird brain” is no more an insult that calling that person a “bright bulb.”  But if you know doubters who somehow missed the science about avian intelligence, you can send them this.  Apparently the owners thought a couple of scarecrows would keep the Canada Geese off their lawn.  The geese were not amused.

Henry Thoreau on Wintertime Birds

December 23, 2007


Henry David Thoreau, among many other things, was a precise and lyrical birder. Here is he on two wintertime birds in Massachusetts:

For sounds in winter nights, and often in winter days, I heard the forlorn but melodious note of a hooting owl indefinitely far; such a sound as the frozen earth would yield if struck with a suitable plectrum, the very lingua vernacula of Walden Wood, and quite familiar to me at last, though I never saw the bird while it was making it. I seldom opened my door in a winter evening without hearing it; Hoo hoo hoo, hoorer, hoo, sounded sonorously, and the first three syllables accented somewhat like how der do; or sometimes hoo, hoo only. canada-alan-d-wilson.jpgOne night in the beginning of winter, before the pond froze over, about nine o’clock, I was startled by the loud honking of a goose, and, stepping to the door, heard the sound of their wings like a tempest in the woods as they flew low over my house. They passed over the pond toward Fair Haven, seemingly deterred from settling by my light, their commodore honking all the while with a regular beat. Suddenly an unmistakable cat-owl from very near me, with the most harsh and tremendous voice I ever heard from any inhabitant of the woods, responded at regular intervals to the goose, as if determined to expose and disgrace this intruder from Hudson’s Bay by exhibiting a greater compass and volume of voice in a native, and boo-hoo him out of Concord horizon. What do you mean by alarming the citadel at this time of night consecrated to me? Do you think I am ever caught napping at such an hour, and that I have not got lungs and a larynx as well as yourself? Boo-hoo, boo-hoo, boo-hoo! It was one of the most thrilling discords I ever heard. And yet, if you had a discriminating ear, there were in it the elements of a concord such as these plains never saw nor heard.
(Walden, Chapter XV – Winter Animals)


The goose photo is by Alan D. Wilson.

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