Sam Cook column: A September rendezvous with the wild
Dusk settles over the city, and the geese don’t disappoint.
I eat dinner with one eye on my watch. I have an appointment to keep.
Dusk comes early on these September evenings. I know, from Septembers past, that when most of the light has seeped from the sky, the geese will come. They’ll come to the little pond in a piece of semi-wild country about a mile from my home to spend the night.
My intent is to be there waiting when the show begins.
When the time nears, I call the yellow dog and we go. We make the short drive to the woods. We follow the familiar trail to the pond, which is nestled in forest and wetlands. As we hustle to the water’s edge, I keep glancing over my shoulder, hoping the first airborne arrivals don’t beat me to their destination.
In minutes, we arrive at the pond. Good — in the last vestiges of daylight, I see no geese on the water yet. The dog and I settle in to wait on a small rise.
Within minutes, I hear the first high honking in the east, behind me. Here they come now — a wavy wedge of dark fuselages, ponderous wings and outstretched necks. Twenty or so in a lopsided “V” across the sky. Canada geese — the big ones.
They come over us at such low altitude it seems I could reach up and snare one with a long-handled net. I can hear the rush of air beneath their wings. I can see their primary wing feathers flexing against the resistance. I watch their heads swivel and crane as they search for safe landing zones.
This is what I have come for, to witness this daily pilgrimage in the sky, to get as close as I can to knowing the ways of these impressive creatures.
As they approach their landing zones, some of the geese flip 90 degrees on their sides or turn completely upside down momentarily as they pass over. This act, called “whiffling,” allows the geese to spill air from beneath their wings and lose altitude, putting them on a better trajectory for a perfect landing.
Finally — sometimes in the darkness beyond my view — I hear the extended whishhhhh of their feet and bodies gliding onto the water. Almost immediately, a spirited honking commences.
As the yellow dog and I wait, geese keep coming. Another 10 or so from the east, then a dozen or more. Another group swings in from the southwest, and more on a wide arc from the northeast. Some arrive in complete silence. Others chatter all the way in, their resonant ca-ronks answered by those already on the water.
I imagine their conversations:
“You have room for us down there?”
“You bet. Set your wings. We’ll find a place for you.”
I cannot easily describe why this thrills me so much. It is right up there with the unearthly lament of loons on a wilderness lake or the plaintive wailing of a pack of wolves from deep in the wilderness. It is lovely. It is mysterious. It is the essence of wildness.
I will keep my regular appointment with the geese as often as I can in the coming days. Eventually, on some still, crisp night, a skim of ice will form on the little pond, and the geese will come no more.
How do they know?
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 .