I stopped traffic the first time I heard the haunting cries of wild geese. It was autumn, I had moved to a northern city, and I was driving up a steep hill when I caught the urgent calls through my open window. Geese! Where? I had to see them. Without even thinking, regardless of the traffic behind me, I braked, craning forward to see upwards through the windshield. There they were. I lost all sense, watching the ragged formation circling overhead. Lost in the wild beauty of the migrants, I stayed like that until the large flock had gathered into a “V” and become a distant wisp of smoke on the horizon, headed for the Ottawa River. It still surprises me that the drivers behind me didn’t honk or show annoyance.
It has been my great good fortune to be dazzled by the journeyings of wild geese ever since. When my sons were little boys at home, they knew they could call me any time, no matter how busy I was, to slip outdoors, and stand scanning the skies with them.
Now, I am aware that in cities and cornfields the geese have multiplied so greatly that they are seen as a common nuisance. For me, though, their passages are still a blessing. We were anxious about our new land until we knew for sure that there was a flight path over us. Indeed, one recent memorable spring, so many flocks streamed up our valley journeying north, that I gave up on work altogether, drawn across the bowl of the valley to sit all morning, flooded by the joyous-sounding cries.
Of recent years, a small gathering of geese has nested in the heron pond beyond the hill. Often, we wander back to watch the downy babies shepherded by older geese, swimming among the ghostly drowned tree trunks which are home to the herons’ craggy stick nests.
This time of year, full-grown now, these birds are making many low-flying flights, ferrying back and forth from the pond to the lake, stretching their wings, preparing to leave. Today, when I slipped out into the grey dawn to greet the light, they were passing again, grey shapes, flying so low I could almost touch them. For a few brief moments, I was wrapped in the feathery sound of their flight. As they flew beyond me and over the forest to the lake, their calling arose. First the great clamor of migration, followed by the great silence before the snow comes.