Expecting mother goose
The original photograph has been enlarged and framed and hangs in my hall.
I took a number of pictures when she originally caught my eye — one goose sitting in the yard, not terribly far from water’s edge. Her mate stands alert and on guard perhaps six feet away. He also faces the water but her as well.
It was her position which necessitated a second glance. I knew something wasn’t right. These geese return every spring to lay and then bring up a clutch so having geese around — on the water or in my yard — wasn’t anything special.
Maybe not, but she was.
She seemed so . . . so spread out. Usually a sitting goose will tuck her wings close to her sides. This one, contrarily, had her wings extended.
Had she been injured? An even closer look. And then I saw them — just the tiniest bits of fluff, yellow and grey, hardly balls for mom was keeping the goslings as far tucked beneath her as she could with so many needing that body warmth. A bit of her back shows as well for the wings could not envelope her as one would normally expect. These couldn’t have been more than a day or two old.
While hatching day can be anywhere from the beginning of May — even three times in April — I generally start looking for signs of the first hatchings during the first half of May.
Opinions vary whether the goslings are taken to the water that first day or given some time to dry off and grow acclimated to their brave new world before being led into the “briny” on their second day where even more dangers await. I have water snakes — LARGE water snakes and snapping turtles for starters. I tend to side with the former opinion, convinced that my patience has been rewarded with views of newly opened egg shells as the earlier green balls do follow their parents into the lake. I know that, before their feet are wet, the youngsters know the danger signal and are fully adept at ducking under water on command. Quite a sight!
May days may indeed be blissfully warm. April here promises that (as may March or even earlier) but the weather can prove fickle with no guarantee of the morrow. May days may also be chilling, cutting winds ready to undo our fondest expectations. We reach for a sweater, perhaps even a light jacket. Goslings turn to each other for warmth.
Mom’s body is a perfect umbrella on those first days. But goslings, being given only a matter of months to fully mature, lack the leisure to stay that little that long. This in fact is not a sight I have ever been lucky enough to see again.
I have, however, had the good fortune to see — and again photograph the wonder — when, also to prevent chills, all the goslings huddle close together into a little ball.
Years ago I started with domestic geese: Independence, Priscilla, Marigold and Caesar. A handful, to be sure, but fun to raise until came the dark mornings after DST ended when their efforts at directing traffic in front of my house became a hazard. Returned to their original home, I was told they kept to themselves while showing no inclination to mix with the other farmyard geese. Barny was another story altogether.
What reminded me now of them was my marveling to see these birds soaking in the open spring water on the coldest winter days. No way! Until I remembered running water has to be at or above freezing, a good way indeed to stay warm when the thermometer dips close to zero.
The goslings haven’t hatched yet as I write this. The goose long ago settled on her nesting site, laid those eggs over a number of days — this is a brief effort which I can’t always see — and then settled down to warm them to hatching. The gander never far away will become the giveaway as his distance from the nest decreases. At the end he’s pacing as would any expectant dad — except he does it by swimming back and forth close by.
It’s worth the wait. For me too.
Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. “Her Reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” following in 2014. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.