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A Wild Goose Chase

Sometimes along lifes’ way an event, person, place or thing causes you to detour and you find yourself in the midst of the most enlightening adventure.

My little adventure began in the still, colorful days of autumn and continues to this very day. I fell in love with the ‘Shoal Harbor Geese’.

Little did I think I would have such a strange relationship with a gaggle of geese when I walked down to the old railway track one beautiful afternoon in late October with my trusty camera. For years I had been coming to Shoal Harbor for vacations, but had never spent a whole winter in Newfoundland for thirty-two years.

Wild Goose Chase
I knew that Shoal Harbor/Clarenville was a Canada Goose Sanctuary. In late September and early October I had noticed the geese on several occasions as I drove the causeway connecting the two towns. However, my attempts to photograph the wily birds were proving totally fruitless.

On this particular afternoon, however, it was a low tide, the geese were close to shore, it was a quiet day, and I had film, lots of film. I walked to the Shoal Harbor wharf where friendly people always met, buying vegetables from the ladies fresh vegetable stand, or attending to their boats. I thought that since there were no boats coming or going, and no shocking noises to scare the birds, today was the day I would get my photos.

Well, I am sure you have heard of the best laid plans that go astray, the geese where nowhere to be seen. There happened to be an older gentleman sitting on the wharf. I approached him and asked he if he had seen the geese today.

With a strange look, and with one quarter of a cigarette dangling precariously on his lip, he squinted at me over the smoke and asked, "What geese would that be Mrs.?" So I launched into a song and dance about these beautiful elusive birds that I wanted to photograph, and it just seemed to amuse him. Then he suggested that I could easily get a picture of a gull, just throw the feed to them.

No, I wanted geese, lots of geese.

Then the smoky gentleman posed the brutal question, "Ever eat ‘em?"

By the look on my face he knew I was shocked and laughed all the way back to the angle iron and four tires he called a truck, leaving a trail of laughter and smoke. So much for that I thought.

Then the kind lady selling her vegetables approached me, and told me the geese had left a short time ago but they usually came back just before a low tide to feed. I decided to take her advice and try another day.

Now, my interest in these birds didn’t happen overnight. It came just as a gradual interest stirred by an offhand remark by somebody that these geese stayed in this area as long as they had some ‘open water’. To determine how long they have been coming here is difficult. When asked, everyone replies, "As long as I can remember!" Whether the person is twenty or eighty years old, that is the token response to the question.

There is some folklore about the geese, but I’ll research that another day. Right then I just wanted to enjoy their beauty, and gracefulness, feed them, and take photos.

Wild Goose Chase
My understanding of Canada Geese is that they are programmed by nature to fly South to escape the severe Canadian winters. I fretted about the birds getting cold until someone reminded me the Finches and Jays aren’t cold so I let that worry sit on the shelf. In due time I got the photos, fed the geese, walked the shoreline at a low tide and had them around my feet. And I didn’t get bitten.

Then in the grocery store one day I caught another goose story. I spotted an older gentleman I knew standing, chatting to a friend. Finding an excuse to speak to them, I launched into my recitation about the geese.

"Oh, my dear. They’ve been here as long as I can remember."

Of, course.

Then his friend started telling a tale of how his mother loved to get a goose to cook, so she could have some goose grease to apply to a chest when someone had a cold. Worked every time he pronounced. By this time two other men had joined the group, at first listening, then his eyes clouded over, he turned red and started to laugh. He laughed and choked and choked and laughed. Finally he got enough air to relate the story of goose feather pillows they had as children. By this time the third member was gearing up to launch into his goose tale.

I slipped away.

The winter solstice came and went. The weather was bitterly cold, the harbor iced up and still the geese stayed. I thought about the little sweaters like those made for the victimized sea birds of the Exon Valdez disaster, but then I came to my senses and realized that a goose dips under water, hence the little cardigans would get wet and freeze in the cold air. Then one day the geese were all gone, not one down near the wharf. I missed them terribly .Were they OK? Did anyone know anything regarding their location now? Were they getting feed? The only way to find out was to ask, so I did.

I inquired of the gas station attendant as he was filling my car if he knew where the Canada Geese had gone.

"No, I don’t," he said. "But you go up to the garage and ask buddy and he can tell ya. He’s into that kinda stuff!"

So I dodged into the garage.

Not seeing anyone, I called out, "Buddy, you in here?" There was a rattle of metal.

"Yeah, I’m down ‘ere, what’s the problem?" asked Buddy, who was attached to a pair of legs sticking out from underneath a car.

So I launched into the usual ‘goose inquiry’. Yes, sure enough, they’d been around as long as he could remember. And he didn’t see them go, but he knew they would be back, leading me to ask how he knew that.

"Cause they likes us maid! Matter of fact I saw them in Lower Clarenville this morning. They’ll head for Shoal Harbor tonight. Love to be in the cabin wid a few of dem roastin’!"

I thanked him and left. So, I discovered, that is what they do, spend so much time in each place, near open low tide waters.

Two days later, on one of the coldest days in February I went to Bayview Road in Clarenville and found my handsome, stately gaggle. They were all over the place, slipping and sliding, their webbed feet unable to grip the shiny smooth ice surface, but they seemed happy. If one goose was sliding, he would stick his beak into the tail feathers of another walking by and get a good tow, there was evidence of them having been fed, but it was cold! I stood on the bank and asked them why they didn’t go to a warmer place, they did not need tickets, it would cost them nothing, no baggage to lose and they could be somewhere in a farmer’s field filling their bellies and soaking up the warmth.

Honk! Honk!

They wanted to be here. They were being fed, they were together, and they were quite content. When I went to drive away, I found my car stuck solid in a snow drift. I tried my best to dislodge it to no avail. Two strong men came and helped a damsel in distress. And of course I had to launch into the story of what I was doing there, how I once had seen a duck frozen to the ice and having to be rescued and how I feared for the geese. The duck that was saved had feet that took months to heal.

The older man just stared at me. Then he spoke, in what one could call a rant.

"The birds look OK don’t they? Nobody got stuck, except you. I think, dear, that these are not just Canada Geese, they got a lot of Newfoundlander in ‘em. They’ll be fine. Now you just go and get warmed up yourself, the birds are gonna be just dandy!" And he walked away with his shovel dragging behind him.

He was right, so right. I love the geese, but nature does not need my daily undivided indulgence. We all play a part, share in the job of keeping an eye open for anyone or anything in distress and we all should do just fine that way.

The geese honked loudly as I drove away. I saw them in Shoal Harbor the next day looking handsome. So the little detour into the ‘gaggle of geese’ gave me tremendous laughs, I met lovely people and I learned so much. My photos are great reminders of that fork in the road. Our geese are still here as I write this and people are used to me with my camera now and tell me where something interesting or unusual can be found worthy of a photo. So chance encounters led to even more encounters, the geese are fine, and a random act of kindness led me to the geese and memories to tell grandchildren someday.


All Rights Reserved. Story submitted by Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe

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