Karen Horneffer-Ginter
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A Goose Comes Down

I've heard the expression many times, "Beware if a black cat crosses your path." I haven't, however, heard any instruction around what it means to find a dead Canadian goose laying in your drive way. All I could imagine when I saw it was that its presence probably wasn't a good omen.

My husband had first seen the goose upon opening the garage door to take out the garbage, and he had offered a warning, best he could, to the rest of the family who he knew would soon be walking out the same door.

"Umm . . . just be aware that there's a big goose lying in the middle of the driveway."

"What!?" I asked while grabbing my cup of coffee and shoes, and helping the kids load up their backpacks to head out to the bus stop. We quickened our pace to see what he was talking about, and sure enough, there it was.

We gathered around the goose, inspecting it, trying to figure out how it had arrived. There were no signs of blood or injury, but the circle of feathers surrounding it made it seem like it had just fallen out of the sky. As we stood there, I realized we had formed a circle around the deceased, standing close enough to see it clearly, but with enough distance to offer some safety from what was unexplainable.

"Maybe it just died of old age," my husband suggested, "It does have lots of gray feathers—ohh" he interrupted himself, "I guess all Canadian geese have gray feathers."

"Maybe it got hit by an airplane," I offered, but then realized the unlikely probability of a plane bumping into a goose in such a way that it would arrive in our front yard in one piece.

The pondering continued as we stood there, hovering over its body. The kids re-adjusted

their backpacks on their shoulders and I sipped my coffee as we continued posing our theories.

"Maybe the dog next door brought him here."

"Maybe he had a heart attack while he was flying."

"Maybe he was flying too close to the goose next to him and got knocked out."

"Maybe he's a girl, why are we assuming he's a he?"

"Well, what are we going to do with him . . . or her?" my son asked.

"I'll figure it out," my husband said as he used the tip of his shoe to gently roll the goose to the place where our driveway meets our grass. "Wow, it's really heavy."

We heard the sound of the school bus, and as the kids ran ahead he whispered, "Do you think I should put it in the garbage dumpster?"

"God, that's awful" I said, crinkling up my face. I knew somehow the idea was incorrect—whether it be politically, socially, morally or for all of the above reasons, but I also sensed that this would soon be the fate of the goose.

"Shouldn't we bury it?" I asked as a gesture, while I ran to catch up with the kids. I realized that for my friends who lived in the outskirts of town, with acreage or bordering words, it would be obvious where to take shovel to soil. My mind, however, could only go to the dangers of digging: messing with pre-established flower beds, destroying the front yard sod we were still paying for, undoing the seeds of the backyard grass we had diligently stayed off of and watered, or misjudging the mysterious placement of sprinkler pipes threaded below the yard's surface. There just wasn't an obvious place to start digging a big hole in the midst of suburbia. Living here, we're not prepared for real nature to descend upon us.

As I came back from the bus stop, I saw a group of crows had arrived. Some were perched on our roof and others circled over our yard. I wasn't sure if they were responding as we had, with curiosity or even concern, or if they were merely excited by the arrival of breakfast. I started shooing them away with my arms, feeling protective of the goose. It felt disrespectful to think of them picking at him or nibbling on his body. I could sense, though, that they were rolling their eyes at me, mocking the ridiculousness of my unspoken stance: "Don't even think about eating this goose. He fell on our property and he's going in our dumpster!"

All morning, I kept alternating between feeling like I was under-reacting and overreacting to the goose. How could we not find a more respectful way of responding, and at the same time, why was the situation bothering me so much? For the most part, my response to the sight of roadside animals and deceased insects in the corners of my home is fleeting. When I bring home chicken or fish from the grocery store, I rarely relate to them as dead animals. They just seem like "what we are having for dinner:" items awaiting their unwrapping and preparation. I know there are many people who live their lives in closer proximity to the cycles of nature— people who I imagine are more conscious and less dramatic about how death fits into the larger picture of things. Regardless, it's a challenge for the human mind to grapple with such realities. Maybe this is why people often slow down and gawk at traffic accidents—partly out of curiosity and concern, but partly just to register life's fragility.

Either way, the goose's presence somehow felt unnatural. As my husband planned how he might move the goose out of the yard, we questioned if what we were doing was even legal. It didn't help when we saw a police car drive by. I felt my muscles tighten like they do when I'm speeding. All I could imagine was the officer getting out of his car and approaching me,

"Ma'm, was that a goose I saw on your driveway this morning, and if so, where exactly is that goose now?" I could almost feel how sweat would pour down my forehead as he spoke to me, "Are you aware of ordinance 36-AB9?"

Fortunately, the officer just continued to drive by. But even after the goose was no longer lying in our yard, questions still lingered in my mind. How had the goose gotten there, and was it some sort of an omen? Basically, I faced the all too familiar question of when to read something into something and when not to—the existential dilemma summarized in the bumper stickers, "shit happens" and "there are no coincidences." For me, these two ends of continuum were raised by my friends' responses over lunch.

"Whoa, that's weird," said my first friend as she raised her eyebrows and returned to eating her salad.

My other friend chimed in with a more engaged response, "Hmm, of all the places where this goose might have fallen out of the sky, what are the chances it would land on your narrow stretch of front lawn? You should look up goose in an 'animal symbology' book. Maybe this means something. Really, the question here is why would a goose land in your yard on this day?? What have you been thinking about?"

"I don't know—not much. I've just been working, writing a little, and carting the kids around," I responded, disappointing her in her quest for meaning. "It's too bad this hadn't happened at some other time when it could have held some obvious symbolic meaning," I went on to say.

There had been times when I had wished clarity would drop out of the sky. When I was deciding what school to attend, I specifically prayed that God might descend in front of me wearing a sweatshirt from the to-be chosen University.

And so my mind couldn't help but think of what this goose could have been an answer to . . .

Should I take that trip to Hawaii? Is it safe to fly?

What country should I move to if I get tired of the politics here? Mexico? Canada?

What should I write about today?

Oh, wait a minute . . .

More Articles...

Nov. 1, 2012:  At the Pool
Sep. 1, 2012:  Lightening Up the Seriousness of Self-Care: Tales of a New Runner
Aug. 1, 2012:  "You Don't Know How Lucky You Are"
Jul. 2, 2012:  "Waking Up"
Jun. 4, 2012:  "My Dog Smells Like a Dog . . ."
May. 1, 2012:  A Goose Comes Down
Apr. 1, 2012:  "Sorry, Mom"

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