A PERSONAL ESSAY BY JOHN SIMONDS
It was reported, sometime last year, that a pair of wily coyotes had entered Erie Park on the banks of the Chicago River and made off with a couple of dozing Canada geese, all while the world slept.
Had we all been awake to witness this kidnapping, the applause would have been deafening, something akin to the capture of Osama Bin Laden. The Canada goose is only slightly more popular than Bin Laden, but not by much. They are the bête noire of golf course superintendents, picnickers, lawn mowers, gardeners, joggers, dog walkers, and anyone else who finds the odious blanket of their feces repugnant.
There are serious proposals sitting prominently in the desk drawers of Park Superintendents throughout the City of Chicago for the mass extermination of Canada geese by poisoning them where they feed.
Since there have been no further reports of coyotes in the park, I can only assume that the fastidious coyote discovered what I had years ago when I promised to cook a goose for Christmas dinner: they are all fat and bones with only a few scrawny medallions of meat. Charles Dickens must have known a specialty butcher.
But before you sentence the Canada goose to death by lethal injection, you must hear my defense of these majestic wild fowl that ply the water beneath my balcony. (It sits only twenty feet above the North Branch of the Chicago River.)
Just in case the forces of evil prevail, I am preparing an elaborate defense of the Canada goose that I am prepared to take all the way to the Supreme Court, should this be necessary.
If ever invited to present my case to the Supreme Court of the United States, here are a few of the more salient points I would make, while wearing my morning coat and a white bow tie:
Consider the fact that the divorce rate in the United States is around 45 percent, while the divorce rate among Canada geese is zero. They mate for life and enjoy each others company so much, you never see one without the other. And they enjoy a community of friendly neighbors that often accompany them on their daily excursions up the river.
May it please the court to know that while a not insignificant number of children in the United States are raised by a mother whose mate has abandoned her, not a single gosling is raised without both parents being in attendance until he or she is well along into adolescence. I bear witness to this phenomenon each spring and summer of the eleven I have lived in the River Lofts.
Furthermore, every April we witness the brooding of the eggs on a nest in grassy seclusion directly across the river from where we sleep. Come late April, around the 21st, the same time as Paul Revere went on his famous ride, a gaggle of six to eight yellow, fuzzy babies appear in single file behind their mother in what can only be describe as one of the more adorable scenes witnessed by those of us with children of our own.
But what continues to fascinate me, is that while the parade proceeds, the father is right there in the rear tending to his children’s well-being, but he is not alone in doing so. What I suppose is an uncle, is guarding the flank. I suggest, Your Honors, that we all could learn from their example.
They are fierce defenders of the nest. I have witnessed those scavenger seagulls trying to invade the nest, only to be met in mid-flight by a defending father viciously flapping his wings and screeching unprintable epithets. It reminds me of one of the classic dog fights against the Japanese in World War II.
But to move this argument along, there is the matter of art and sculpture. All of you are old enough to remember the magnificent profile of Audrey Hepburn with perhaps the most elegant neck since Nefertiti. In the world of waterfowl, I would submit the Canada goose can hold it own among the best, with perhaps the elegant swan as its only rival. But a close rival for sure. Its profile on the water at dawn is a scene of infinite beauty.
Come late November, they gather under the Ohio Street Bridge to discuss whether it will be Hilton Head or Kiawah this year. Each day for about a week, the number of geese who have signed on for the trip south grows. When it reaches about 15, I know that their control tower is ready to give them clearance for immediate take off. Then, as the moon rises, I look up to see this magnificent V formation in the sky.
“See you in April!” I shout. The lead goose tips his right wing in recognition and I return to the kitchen to mix an extra dry Grey Goose martini for toasting my friends a safe journey.