Last night I heard a honking and looked up, confused at what my ears told me. “What was that noise?” I asked Edge.
December eleventh, and Canada Geese are just leaving northern Vermont. I tried to remember past seasons—had I ever heard them this late? I took my bird book off the shelf and flipped to the map index. The picture showed a thick purple band indicating year-round range taking up much of the central and northern regions of the US, with a note beside it stating, “birds of feral stock increasing and becoming permanent residents well to the south.” The southern third of Vermont was colored purple, while the northern parts of the state remain pink, part of the summer range, where winters get cold enough to warrant a long flight south. December eleventh, though, and it barely feels like winter has started.
Today I ask Edge if he’s ever heard geese migrating at this time of year.
“I don’t know. It could be common. I haven’t been back long enough to notice.”
I sit back in my chair. It’s true, he had been living in Alaska for four years, in Arizona and California before that, and this was his first full year back in the east. Still, it seems to me that Canada Geese are one of those species you just notice without trying. Each fall and spring, their honking stops me and pulls my eyes upward to watch their flight. During migration I find them everywhere: in the sky, in cow pastures, along riverbanks, in ponds, and marshes on the side of the road. At dusk I hear them honking, one group calling to another, saying this is where to land now, and at dawn I see them flap upward, their long necks reaching out to begin the journey again. Their presence is indeed one of my favorite indicators of seasonal change.
On page 62 of the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America, fifth edition, one sentence follows the habitat description of the Canada Goose: “Nonmigratory groups released on ponds in parks and golf courses causing problems.” The word that hits me here is released, implying human intervention, and it occurs to me that the golfers who curse geese as a menace to their course probably do not know that the birds came to be there by the work of another person, perhaps even a fellow golfer. Then I think of migratory patterns and the shifting departure and return dates, and my own complicity in the change of seasons looks me square in the face—how I love to travel, how many planes I’ve been on in my life, how many miles I’ve driven, how many I still drive.
You see, I was about to make a judgment. I was about to point out something foolish about golf courses and those who do not see their connection to geese or seasons, but who only want a clean course and don’t mind a warm December so they can golf a little longer. The friends of judgment are resistance and arrogance, though, and what good are they in cultivating awareness and acceptance? What I’m getting at is this: the geese last night reminded me again that the world is rapidly changing in more ways than are clear to me, and today I realized again that we are all complicit. I don’t have answers. I only try to live in love and simplicity, and hope that this is taking a step in the right direction. The question I ask myself now is will I be complicit in discord or harmony? We all have that choice to make.