Once in a while, a goose will land among decoys

Labor Day weekend has slipped past, and the summer is reluctant to give up her grasp, bearing down on us with another round of high temperatures, not unlike earlier this June.

The rains have had the spotlight this summer. How has this affected our communities? It has been both devasting and rewarding. It brought out the state’s spirit of community and caring for our neighbors.

It is one thing to see the piles of ruined household debris and people shoveling silt and mud from their houses and stores, but what has it done to the political divisiveness that we were all so fired up about? When the torrents of water ripped through towns like Jeffersonville, Montpelier and Johnson, I did not hear of anyone saying, “Save the liberals” or “Save only the right-wingers.” No. What I saw was everyone working to save each other from danger, and in the spirit of the Green Mountain state, I witnessed a tremendous outpouring of care and thoughtfulness. Heck! Even duck hunters and fishermen were using their shallow watercraft to pull people out of their damaged homes and businesses. As we begin to clean up and heal from this most difficult summer, let’s take the time to recognize that we are all “just walking each other home.”

As this week’s scorching heat begins to fade into memory, and fall slides the gentle north breezes into our valley, let’s take a moment to feel gratitude that, although the weather is mercurial and unpredictable, the sun still rises over the mountains. Farmers are finally getting to cut their hay, and the geese have begun congregating in a most gregarious gaggle. Every dawn and every dusk, if you listen long enough, you can hear the magical calls from above.

I have always been strongly sentimental about the call of the goose. When I was a young boy, my father would recite a poem about the “call of the wild goose.” Lonely. Proud. Searching. Something about the mystical, magical spirit of the wild goose captivated my adolescent mind and drove my spirit north from Pittsburgh to greener pastures here in what my soul knows to be “home.”

Courtesy photo. Eric Champney, of Fairfax, and Trevor Coles, a University of Vermont medical intern, found opening day of 2023 to be fruitful.
Courtesy photo. Eric Champney, of Fairfax, and Trevor Coles, a University of Vermont medical intern, found opening day of 2023 to be fruitful.

Many people believe that geese “mate for life.” This is true to an extent. But if a mate should die by natural causes or be harvested for a meal, the widow or widower does, in fact, find a new mate.

This presents an existential conundrum for the goose hunter with a sense of remorse paired with a feeling of connection. I think we can all accept Einstein’s theory that energy does not die. It only changes form. So, if we were to look at the “energy” of a goose, what do we see? Responsibility? Grace? Majesty in flight?

Communication? Did you know that the Canada goose has more than 105 recorded vocalizations? So, I posit that if the spirit of the goose contains these energies, and is harvested for consumption, where does that energy go? Is it contained, at least partially, in the flesh that is consumed?

I believe that whatever we choose to consume, be it organic vegetables, wild foraged asparagus, mushrooms, fiddleheads or ramps, they all contain energy and replenish our bodies, so that the energy now becomes a part of our condition.

As I lay in my heavily camouflaged layout blind in a field of winter wheat sprouts and hear that long, lonesome sound of birds coming from their water roost, I prepare myself and my compatriots for the miracle of communicating with the lead bird. I repeat what he says in the same intonation, inflection and meaning. The dialogue changes tones and tempo several times.

If I can mimic his desire to feed, plead with him to have his flock join “us” on the ground plucking the succulent green sprouts, he may. Or he may not. Maybe he will see the shine of the early morning sun on the dew on the backs of the decoys and turn his flock away to safety. Perhaps he notices that the “geese” on the ground aren’t moving enough and flares away, refusing to land in the artificial flock. Or as happens sometimes, he might notice that the birds on the ground are pronouncing their invitation to join them properly. After all, these are Canadian geese and if we’re speaking in an American dialect, or using the wrong vernacular, the refusal can be very abrupt.

Once in a while, when the sun is in the right place and the shadows cover the dew, when the psychology of the plastic flock demonstrates proper placement in the hierarchy, or a simple turn of phrase that agrees with the lead bird’s dialogue, he will cup his powerful pinions, rearing his head back, lowering his large black feet, and backpedal into the wind’s direction, to land gracefully amid the decoy spread.

In the moment that he hangs perilously close to terra firma, I feel that we have joined hearts. The Great Spirit has presented this animal to us to harvest and imbibe the spirit of the wild goose.

If reincarnation is really a thing, I’d like to come back as a goose. I would lead my flock on our annual journey for many decades, because I would know exactly what all the decoys, layout blinds and camouflage look like.

(Bradley Carleton is executive director of Sacred Hunter.org, a privately owned limited liability corporation that seeks to educate the public on the spiritual connection of man to nature through hunting, fishing and foraging.)