Here they come now, bugling their progress through the dawn’s early light. Their cruising altitude is just over the tapered tips of some mature spruces. Canada geese, on the move. It seems as if I could reach up and touch their downy underbellies.
I glance up, and now the 747s of waterfowl are just above us. I can see their outstretched necks, watch the way their fuselages rise and fall with each wingbeat. The morning light, low and rich, bathes the bellies of the geese in an amber wash. This will be the most beautiful sight I witness all day, maybe all week. I am thrilled at this serendipitous passage. I had come to stretch my legs. Now I’ve been given the gift of wild geese.
The pair is gone now, over the low hills to who knows where. To claim a nesting territory? To find some early grass on a south-facing slope? Or to forge miles farther north, checking the flowages for open water?
It is good, I think, not to know the answers to these questions, to accept a world with some wonder left in it.
The dog and I move on down the trail.
I recall the words of Wisconsin naturalist and author Aldo Leopold, written 70 years ago in “A Sand County Almanac”: “One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March morning, is the spring.”
Hiking a few days earlier, I had heard the honking of geese somewhere through the woods. I suspected the calling was coming from a nearby pond. Five minutes of punching through crusted snow and dodging thick undergrowth put me on the swampy edge of the pond. There they were, a pair, swimming in a tiny patch of open water where a creek enters the pond. The geese were staking out breeding territory, I suppose.
That’s when I looked up in the ash trees behind the geese and saw two bald eagles sitting on bare branches. I doubt that was a coincidence. I figured the eagles were contemplating the odds of some future gosling lunch.
It is risky business, of course, being any kind of wild thing trying to perpetuate its species. Early last spring, I watched on many days a Canada goose sitting on her nest atop an active beaver lodge. The lodge wasn’t far from a road, and I'm sure a lot of other folks stopped to observe the obvious incubation, a duty that typically lasts for about 28 days.
Then, one day, she was gone. She and her buffy fluffs likely had waddled off into the woods in search of insects and blades of emerging grass.
I hope to see that dedicated mama atop the beaver house again this spring. Perhaps her offspring will one day thrill someone walking a dog early on an April morning.
Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find his Facebook page at facebook.com/sam.cook.5249.