Geese, like many boaters and tourists who show up on the Shore, are seasonal visitors. The arrival of geese in the fall is like the invasion of college kids on Maryland beaches during spring break; they’re everywhere. Geese gather in droves in the creeks, golf courses, and weekenders’ lawns, huddling feather to feather. They stay for the winters and then leave.
Whether arriving, taking off, or just floating around, geese make an extraordinary ruckus. One night in the fall some years ago, while anchored on the Wye River near Shaw Bay, a huge colony of geese settled in the water near us. I was unable to hear what my wife was saying across the cockpit for the din that the geese were making. Geese generate a thunderous volume because they all talk at once the way anxious people do. Why so much to say I have no idea, unless, perhaps, as frequent fliers, they’re relieved to be settled in and enjoy telling each other stories of where they’ve been, the ups and downs of their flight south and who they’d bumped into along the way. I heard a lot of stories that night, and although I couldn’t understand a word – a honk, more accurately – I didn’t sleep a wink for the din.
Once, in late spring, I woke in the middle of the night to the honking of a solitary goose in the creek in front of my house. I’m used to sounds that gaggles of geese make. It’s odd hearing only one. I felt melancholy listening to the goose. I couldn’t get back to sleep, but not because of the noise–the honking wasn’t intrusive– but for the suggestion of what this plaintive voice might portend.
In spring, I’m expecting nature’s new arrivals. This goose must have been around the Bay since the fall, anyway. I doubt it was a recent arrival. To hear the honking of only one goose when I know that he or she, only a month ago, was surrounded by the convivial chatter of friends and relatives, inclines me to think the worst: perhaps its spouse died or for health reasons the goose wasn’t up to making the long trip north. For this goose, spring was not a beginning, but an end.
There are gains and losses in the seasons of life. I think of the retirees who come to the Shore to live out their days in the gentle ambience of tidewater country. In my community, most of the people are of riper years, most over fifty-five. The days of contentment endure for a while but then there’s the inevitable time of illness and death. One survives to live out by themselves the dream they once shared together.
Not far from my home just off the Bozman-Neavitt Road, a couple I knew once named their home, Final Decision. The name was inscribed on a plaque attached to a covered well housing that stood by the road. The home is still there, the well housing too, but the name has disappeared.
Final Decision was a word play on the husband’s profession – he had been a judge – and that this was the last move the couple planned to make. In short, like many here, they came to live out their lives on the Shore. The husband died and the wife stayed on in the house. After some years she became disabled with age and her family saw the necessity of moving her to a facility providing regular care. After she left, the sign began losing letters, falling off one by one, until, when I last saw the sign, the remaining letters read, ‘indecision.’ Life decisions we make are rarely final; they’re tentative. The final decision is made elsewhere.
I considered another possible scenario to account for the solitary bird’s presence. Indeed, like Henry David Thoreau, the goose may have been making a statement. He’d had it with the noise, the crowded skies, congestion on the creeks, geese everywhere flapping and fussing, and spending long hours in the air. Like Thoreau, the goose found his own Walden Pond, on the creek in front of my house.
For man and goose, alike, there are tradeoffs to be managed. While it’s comforting knowing someone’s nearby it’s also important to have time and space to be still and alone. To be assured of the comforts and safety that companionship and society provide, most species congregate together in one way or another. For our part, we build and inhabit homes around the tranquil coves we love, sail the open waters that beckon us, and drop our hooks in the silent creeks and rivers that promise us a night’s safe anchorage. But we also insist upon having conveniences nearby like shopping malls with big boxes We profane the very pristine nest we sought for refuge, the place where we sought gentle space, where we could engage in the discernment that solitude brings, and where that soft, downy texture of stillness can be heard, the stillness that cradles the soul like soft pillows sooth sleepy heads.
After a month or so I never saw the goose again. Who knows where he’d gone. But I like to think that he went on searching for that perfect time which includes discovering the uncommon place for which many of us longed and found a while we lived on the Shore.
Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.