I have seen several families of Canada Geese down by the river recently. Pairs of proud parents stand guard over small tufts of yellow-grey, ready to fend off any intruder that dares to get too close. I’ve been watching them from a respectful distance, longing for a better zoom lens on my camera.
It’s obvious that some of the goslings have hatched earlier than others. In some families, the hatchlings are about the size of a tennis ball. They teeter around behind their parents, following closely, with one or two occasionally straying off a bit. Wandering is dangerous business however, with plenty of predators lurking nearby, ready to snap up one of those tasty morsels.
In fact, it’s apparent that many of the goslings have been lost this way, relegated to becoming part of the food chain before their young lives have even begun. Some of the geese with older chicks (now the size of a Nerf football) have clearly lost some of their brood – with only two or three downy babes following behind, while the youngest hatchlings number between eight and ten. This always makes me sad, but nature shows no mercy, and everyone needs to eat.
Seeing the goslings reminds me of a time when I happened upon a stray chick while I was hiking. I was living in the Catskills at the time, and hiking along the Esopus Creek, when I spotted a fuzzy yellow chick struggling in the current. With no sign of the parents in sight, I snatched the gosling from the water and held it gently in the palm of my hand. It nipped at the air with terrified cheeps, calling for the safety of its mother’s warmth. With the life of this fragile being now in my hands, I wondered what I should do. I imagined taking it home and raising it, but it was completely impractical. I didn’t have a place to raise a goose, not to mention the know-how. (Nowadays, I suppose I would look it up online, but this was before the omnipresence of the almighty Google.)
My heart was breaking, and yet I knew the fate of this bird. It was going to die. It was going to earn its place in the web of life by nourishing another.
I have always been taught that nature knows best; we should refrain from interfering with her cruel and wonderful ways. I pondered this as I held this soft living being in my hands, marveling at the delicateness of such a tiny creature, and grappling with the complexities of the world that we are all a part of. I tried to imbue as much comfort as I could in the gosling, saying a prayer for it and thanking it for its place in the circle of life, until at last, I set it down and said goodbye.
I think about that chick from time to time, and wonder if I would do things differently if I had to do it all over again. Perhaps I would bring it to a wildlife rehab center. Or perhaps I would try to raise it myself now that I have the means to do so. Do I regret my choice of letting a life slip away? No. In some way, I feel that gosling has become a part of me. Its spirit mingles with mine, reminding me of the sacredness of all living beings.