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Solitary Goose

Solitary Goose

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 152
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  • Book Info
    Solitary Goose
    Book Description:

    In the fall of 1996 Sydney Plum encountered a solitary Canada goose on a pond near her home in New England. Caring for the animal became a way for her to reconnect with nature. Walks to the pond were daily rituals--reflective times during which Plum thought about the relationships between humans and animals. Mixing memoir with closely observed nature writing, Plum searches for a deeper understanding of what was changed by the experience with the solitary goose she named SG. In the tradition of Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, Plum writes lyrical lessons on the life cycle of geese, the mystery of their great migratory patterns, and their amazing adaptability. Canada geese were not always so plentiful in the United States, she explains, nor were they always denigrated as "flying carp." Plum shows how species-management programs reestablished the birds outside their previous range at the same time as golf courses, office parks, and suburban ponds began dotting the countryside, providing them with prime habitats where they were unwanted. Memories of breaking holes in the ice for SG to escape predators turn Plum's thoughts toward what it means to nurture. Coming to terms with how SG thinks leads Plum to examine anthropomorphism in nature writing. In contrast to the metaphors through which we commonly view nature, Plum argues that science combined with metaphor is a better way to understand animals. Though Plum's focus is generously outward toward nature, this book also reveals an inner journey through which, as she describes it, "the enclosures of my human life had been opened. I had become more susceptible to the kindnesses of birds."

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4298-6
    Subjects: Zoology, Philosophy, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Two Solitary Figures
    (pp. 1-20)

    During the late fall and early winter of 1996–97, I made daily visits to a pond near my home where there was a solitary Canada goose. During the darkest part of the winter, I went to the window in the dining room at night and pressed my forehead against the glass, which was quite cool and slightly damp. With my head against the glass, I talked to “sg,” the solitary goose. I had been talking to him for months—about the weather, the conditions of life on the pond, about my life and my dog’s—but my winter’s-night monologues...

  5. Footprints
    (pp. 21-29)

    Sg rose from the reeds to begin to show me how he lived; he looked back at me; and I followed him. I walked behind him, several feet behind him, and occasionally he would glance back to make sure I was still there. Later, that became the signal for going for a walk: he lifted himself to his feet, turned his neck to look at me, walked a few steps, looked again, then set off.

    In spite of the awkward appearance of their bobbling gait, geese spend a good portion of their lives walking and can cover some distance, as...

  6. The Life of a Wild Goose
    (pp. 30-44)

    The life of a wild goose is lived in relationship to bodies of water, fields of grass or grain, and the necessary passage between these elements. Water, earth, and air. Three of the four elements, and if you consider the expense of energy required by their movement as fire, then geese might be said to be among the few, special creatures who embody a unified creation. The lives of individual geese, the makings of generations, the history of the species rolling out across the ages have always been shaped by wind and water, vegetation and climate. Of course, as is...

  7. Ice
    (pp. 45-48)

    That winter of sg I was surprised to discover how frightened I was of the ice. I was afraid to walk on the ice, but that fear might be ascribed to my having fallen hard on an icy patch of road several winters before. I cracked a vertebra and spent several days unable to do more than walk from one part of the house to another, in between naps on the red couch. Of the dual specters of pain and limitation, I think I am more afraid of limitation.

    I was afraid of the booming and cracking noises the ice...

  8. Never Underestimate the Animal
    (pp. 49-54)

    Usually, on our walks, sg would take me along the edge where the grassy or snowy slope met the pond. Or we meandered up the beach. Sometimes he took me onto the ice, although I am loath to go there. I told him how little I like to walk on ice, how scared I am of the cracks and booms beneath my feet. Beneath the ice the pond has a secret life, too “other” for my comfort. Yet I walked out onto the ice, telling my fears to a solitary goose. When we walked I tried to take care not...

  9. A Bird Who Cannot Fly
    (pp. 55-68)

    The Kensington Bird and Animal Hospital is a small storefront in a strip mall on the busiest road in Berlin, Connecticut. At the receptionist’s desk I signed in sg on a yellow pad specifically for wild birds. A large sign on the desk declared that wild birds were treated free of charge. I had called as we left the house, so we were expected. Scott came out to the reception area, introduced himself, picked up the kennel, and turned to go back into the working part of the hospital. I didn’t know the protocol, but I followed. I was, after...

  10. Wild Poems
    (pp. 69-79)

    I continued to visit the pond, to watch the geese and other birds—even though sg was not there, even though there was no special need for my presence. Or perhaps there was: I was still the connection between sg and the wild. All the news from the pond I took to him on my visits, repeating my observations (however inaccurate) so that we would not forget his claim on life.

    The snow collapses from the trees, exhausted from trying to hold on while the sun and a softer wind do their mid-March work.

    The geese bathe themselves by rocking...

  11. Geese, Geese, Geese, Geese, Geese
    (pp. 80-97)

    Through millions of years, the geese have watched as bodies of water changed shape and disappeared, as grasslands expanded across continents, then burned away or were plowed under. Through all of this the geese have survived as species, and as metaphor.

    Although Mom and Dad raised four goslings and taught them to fly during a recreational season at Bicentennial Pond, the head of the Parks Department had let me know that few members of the department or the community wished to continue sharing the space with the Canada geese. The next spring they put up netting between the beach and...

  12. The End of Gazing
    (pp. 98-106)

    I visited sg at the Hungerford Outdoor Educational Center fairly regularly, because my daughter ran and the track where her team had all the big meets was only minutes away. Since my daughter ran the thirty-two-hundred-meter race (one of the last events of a meet), I had more than enough time to drop her at the track and head over for a visit to sg. He would walk me around the yard, periodically looking over his shoulder at me, while I filled him in on what was happening at the pond. We fell easily into the relationship we had had...

  13. Two Geese and a Duck on a Pond in Winter
    (pp. 107-126)

    The practice of going to the pond—begun in late 1996 with my ministrations to sg and renewed in 1998 when goslings were my focus—was ritual for five years. In the summer, visits to the pond had to be timed so that the dog and I did not interrupt swimming lessons, which my son taught, and did not appear as the dinner-time picnickers arrived. We found little snatches of time. In the fall, the grassy hill fell away before us, clear of human figures, and the pond sparkled in a light being cleansed of humidity. In the early morning,...

  14. To Hear Him Again
    (pp. 127-130)

    Life is everywhere. When we think of life as something granted to us, we forget to look at it closely. The bubbles in ice, the nutrients in grass, the fitness of a feather for flight are all life swirling along. Sunlight in October is life waiting to be deciphered, and birds know the code. Life is more than chemistry, biology, physics. Becoming and being require care, patience, courage, desire, and fear—and accepting loss. And some other mysterious quality we cannot name for certain.

    I set out to know how sg lived in order to save his life. Along the...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 131-135)