Previously published on Medium on January 15, 2016
The goose seemed to be looking for something.
I had seen it earlier in the day, wandering across the main road with apparent unconcern about the cars making their way from both directions. Yes, the town was small and traffic was not an everyday concern, but still. It had only stopped making its beeline for the other side of the street, the seeming destination being the the area of the bank diagonally across from where it was, when the cars loomed with metres. It described a tight semicircle, stopped and stood on one foot briefly, and then flapped from the ground, still not in any particular hurry and flew off, barely at head height when it passed a couple of people standing in front of the music school
It seemed a bit odd even then.
At lunchtime I approached the same area, near but not next to the largely overfrozen pond occupied by a few different kinds of birds, and there is was again. It was, as best I could make out, taking roughly the same path as it had this morning. Again it trundled in very nearly a straight line towards the fountain next to the bank. I noticed it was craning its head to a fro over a narrow arc, as if searching for something that it was sure it had left there, and was certainly going to find again quite soon.
I stopped walking in order to watch, and find out what the large grey bird with the orange beak was up to. It was maybe about three quarters of the way across the road. Something about its determined stride made me want it to find whatever it was looking for. I saw that a couple of cars were slowly making way across the snow towards it. I became tense: would it notice them and fly off, or move off the road? Would it not notice them, and be hit by a car, even though they were probably not travelling fast enough to hurt it? Would it get to the other side and find what it was searching for?
The cars stopped.
The goose also stopped. It regarding the situation of the cars; there were also a number — a small number — of people visible, perhaps three. It slowly made its way back to the other side of the road, again in a semicircle. Twice, as it warily retreated, it stopped and stood for a few moments on one foot, the right foot. I got the impression this might have been because the left one was cold, but in fact each time it paused, it looked wistfully over its shoulder at what I perceived to be its destination. I very nearly called out for it to continue its original path, but then it dusted the snow with its wingtips and flew off at the same gradual incline.
One of the other onlookers was a young woman I had met before. I asked her if the goose always did that. She told me that yes it did, and “it shouldn’t even be here,” which I took to mean that at this time in winter it should have moved on with its grey and orange flock , in place in a ragged vee somewhere to the south. It occurred to me that this was indeed the only goose I had seen for at least several days, and I admitted to her that of the water birds, I had only seen ducks around lately. She didn’t know what it was looking for, either.
As I passed the bank and the fountain, I examined both for a hint of what the goose was seeking. I dreaded to see evidence of a dead mate, or some other animal attachment tragically cut short, but there was nothing. It just wanted to see. Or maybe the running water was the attraction, knowing somehow that the pond would soon be frozen completely, and not wanting to make the journey with the others. I say wanting, rather than able, as it could fly. I felt in that case I should warn the goose that the fountain, although it would keep running, would soon be encrusted with ice after the next windy day, as it had been for weeks until some oddly warm weather.
I moved on. Although I often watch birds for their grace, their playfulness, their beauty and their seeming freedom, I could not get this one’s uncanny focus out of my mind. The fact that it was known to the townsfolk. The fact that they stopped to let it carry on, or as it turned out, go back. That wistful glance back as it stood on its right foot.
I’ll look for it tomorrow.