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.”