Goose Encounters of the Bird Kind

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It was a windy, humid summer evening in July when I drove into my apartment complex and nearly struck a goose. I don’t mean that metaphorically, as in, “Eugene’s date was so offensive that when I caught a whiff of her, I nearly struck a goose.” I mean there was an actual goose, wandering around the parking lot, all long-necked and stiff-legged, waddling like Charlie Chaplin in a diaper. (I don’t mean the goose was in a diaper. I mean the goose waddled the way Charlie Chaplin would if he, Charlie Chaplin, were in a diaper.)

The goose’s presence was unusual because there are no bodies of water close enough to the apartments for her to have meandered over from home. We do have a swimming pool, but I doubt its high levels of chlorine and pee would make it conducive to sustaining waterfowl. So whence came this goose?

I parked my car and walked over toward her — I must assume she was female, for if she was male, she was technically a gander, not a goose, and I don’t want to say “gander” for a whole column — desiring to better learn her intentions and origins. Her neck was very long, and green in color, with a skinny head at the end of it — a Canada goose if I’d ever seen one, which I had not. All told, the bird was a little over two feet tall, and did not seem at all surprised to find herself walking along a busy downtown sidewalk (for now she had exited the parking lot and was moving street-ward). She was not threatening passersby, nor running about frantically. She was just walking around, looking around, like a tourist.

It was then I began to realize that we were not dealing with one of your smarter members of the goose family, as this particular specimen was entirely unafraid of cars. She moseyed out into the street, sort of zigzagging, her head lolling around as she took in the sights, the way three or four women who were friends might stroll casually down a city sidewalk, except she was in the street, and she was alone, and she was a goose. Cars were braking to let her pass, or swerving around her, or honking at her, which is a bad idea, because honking will just confuse a goose. (You have no idea what your horn is saying in goose language. For all you know, you’re insulting the goose’s mother.) One man had to stop his vehicle altogether because the goose was now in his lane — waddling with the flow of traffic, yes, but at a speed of approximately 1 mph, which was a good deal slower than the man wanted to go. He left his car in the middle of the road so he could chase the goose out of his path, and he pursued her for half a block before she finally deviated from the painted lines and made for the curb. Meanwhile, the man’s abandoned car was causing its own havoc with traffic; between a goose and a man who ditches his automobile so he can chase one, I don’t know who’s smarter.

The question was, why didn’t she fly away? Was she hurt? She didn’t appear to be, and she gave no indication of being in pain. I’m no goose doctor, but I would think an injured bird would nurse its wound, or favor one wing, or squawk a lot, or spurt blood, or something. Our subject was walking funny, but I think it’s just how geese walk. It was a little goose-step sort of maneuver, and I must say, it always looked scarier when Hitler’s SS did it. A fellow bystander said he’d seen her fly into the complex a little while earlier anyway. So it was apparently by choice that she was walking and not flying.

But we didn’t want her to get hit by a car, and in the post-dusk hours, this was becoming increasingly likely. In addition, she was wandering the streets of Salt Lake City, in Utah, a state where people hunt animals the way you or I go to the supermarket. I was surprised she didn’t already have shotgun holes in her.

By now she had crossed the street again and was approaching P.F. Chang’s China-Time Bistro and Good-Eatery. A Chinese restaurant seemed like a bad place for a live goose to hang out. Goose is not on their menu, but I wouldn’t blame them for adding it if the opportunity waddled right up to them and honked, “Eat me.” Clearly, something had to be done about this goose, and fast.

As luck would have it, one of the valets at P.F. Chang’s, unencumbered by diners who will actually pay to have someone park their cars for them, had enough free time and presence of mind to begin chasing the goose. His intent soon became clear: If he cornered the goose, she would have no alternative but to fly away, and once airborne, she would be safe, and would perhaps remember where it was she’d been heading in the first place.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the valet had experience in goose-pursuit, for it was only a matter of moments before he had successfully forced this one into the air. She flew quite capably and even beautifully, soaring up, up, up above the city street and toward freedom. A block later, she landed and started walking around again, sight-seeing as before.

I felt much better about the situation now, which was good, because I was tired of the goose and wanted to go home. We had established that the goose COULD fly, and simply didn’t want to. Gallivanting through a metropolitan area isn’t what geese are supposed to do, but as long as it was her decision, who am I to question? What am I, the goose police? No sir. After all, are we not all geese sometimes, remaining earthbound when we ought to be soaring, taking the easy route instead of the harder, more rewarding one? Do we not sometimes need the bored valet of experience to rouse us from our complacency and urge us toward our full potential? I daresay we do, my friends. That goose is us. Which will make it really weird when someone eats her.

Salt Lake has a Canada goose population that generally resides at golf courses and other places where there is water and grass. I have no idea where my goose came from; the nearest places I can think of where geese are likely to dwell are more than a mile away. Hopefully she made it home without being devoured.

The title of this column, "Goose Encounters of the Bird Kind," makes me giggle a lot. You squeeze two puns into one title, you've done a good day's work.

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