A delicate veil of petals swirled about up ahead. From a distance, they seemed to float effortlessly upon the warm summer breeze. I was almost home, thinking as I drove about how much I was looking forward to taking our walk tonight at dusk. Almost there, just needed to get past the pond and then only a couple more blocks. I drove this section several times a day and knew every tree, every curve, every sign…
This stretch in particular was posted on either end of the road with handmade signs that read “Slow the Duck Down”! An obvious attempt at humor, a cleverly risqué play on words and a subtle reminder to watch your speed. The signs had been up since early Spring. Wild geese and ducks nested near this pond and the signs were probably an attempt to ensure a longer, safer life for their hatchlings.
I can remember being delighted when I first saw the family of Canada Geese walking along the side of the road near the pond. Mother and father goose were busily corralling their five little goslings while undoubtedly teaching them by example all sorts of goosey skills. I looked forward to seeing them everyday and personally heeded the duck signs. I took for granted that other people would follow suit but was devastated when one day this family of six was suddenly and without warning a family of five.
One of the babies had either succumb to the street or been prey for a hungry foe. I tried not to think of what might have really happened and resolutely filed it away as being all part of the circle of life. I wondered why these geese dared to get so close to the street in the first place and why they weren’t more protective of their young? On several occasions I would have to slow my vehicle to a stop in the middle of the busy road so the family could cross safely. I was always amused at the nonchalance of the parents and the chaos of their growing offspring. Other drivers however did not share my joy and more often than not horns were honked and engines revved.
Weeks went by and the remaining four goslings thrived! It was bitter sweet – I looked forward to seeing this growing gaggle while at the same time dreaded the thought of possibly losing another one. I was convinced that the signs must be working since the babies were healthy, STILL ALIVE, and maturing rapidly. I couldn’t help but chuckle every time I passed one of those silly signs…
I had just dropped off my son for his first official date with a real live girl and was already waxing nostalgic…wondering how we’d reached this rite of passage so soon, how quickly he’d grown up, how handsome, how kind, how…as I rounded the final curve toward home, that beautiful burst of flora came into focus. What I had thought to be flower petals cascading on the wind turned out to be a flurry of feathers instead.
Instantly, I dreaded what I might find up ahead. I tried to remain calm and optimistic despite the copious amounts of tiny gray and white feathers, the delicate downy kind you would only find in the most intimate and protected parts of a goose. I immediately began to rationalize that losing one more goose was still great odds and that this family of geese had been so lucky to have lasted this long…as I drove past the pond, the spot where the feathers had originally flown, my heart sank. Not one, but TWO, lifeless bodies lay beside the road. I was speechless. Suddenly, I could not breathe.
One corpse was substantially larger than the other which meant that one of the parents had perished as well. I looked on and back in disbelief as I drove by. Canada Geese typically mate for life and are very protective of their young. Even though goslings fledge within a couple of months, they will stay with their parents until the following spring when they too will migrate and find mates of their own. How tragic that this family had come so far and was now torn apart by such a senseless and avoidable act!?
As I slowly caught my breath, the tears began to well up from deep inside of me. The lump in my throat was so intense and so painful that I thought I would choke. One by one, the teardrops began to stream down my face and by the time I turned into my neighborhood, down my street and into my own driveway, the dam had been opened.
I stumbled into the house, sobbing. My boyfriend Jason panicked, thinking something terrible had befallen me on my short drive. In between heavy sobs and gasps I managed to utter, “The geese. It’s the geese…”. I fell into his arms and openly sobbed out loud for many moments. Once I calmed down, I told him the entire story, of how I had seen the feathers and the bodies. I told him my thoughts on there being one parent and one baby and how sad it made me feel. Well, how I felt about the incident, that part was obvious.
What you couldn’t see from the outside was what was truly weighing so heavily on my heart that night. You see, Ben was experiencing yet another first in his life without his father. I have tried to remind and prepare myself for these moments. Someday he’ll graduate, he’ll marry, he’ll have his first child – all without the physical presence of the man who helped make him. I know these times are coming but knowing and experiencing are two completely different things.
I was already vulnerable, feeling proud and worried and happy and excited for my son simultaneously. So much emotion, all together, all at the same time, was overwhelmingly intoxicating. I felt invincible as his mother even though I knew that for him each new milestone meant not only the potential for joys and victories but also challenges and failures.
I know that I cannot protect him from everything nor should I try. Like those baby geese, he’ll have to make his own way someday. He’ll have to learn from his own mistakes in a sometimes scary, fast and unfriendly world. Hopefully there will be guideposts along the way, reminding him and keeping him safe, leading him toward his own right path. And hopefully he’s not the only one heeding those warnings and paying attention to the signs.