In Defense of the Common

Photo supplied.
Canada Goose shows her goslings how it’s done in the Millpond.

Some birds you look up to see on the wing and some you have to look up in a book. On a good day, you’ll encounter both.

On a good day, maybe hiking on Medd’s Mountain on a crisp morning with dry leaves swirling around your ankles, or strolling amid the white sweet clover on Jail Hill some sunny afternoon, you’ll meet a bird so uncommon, or out of place, that only a birding guide (or Google) can help you identify it. That doesn’t happen very often though.

Most days in Millbrook you’re likely to meet just a handful of species: robins, sparrows, chickadees, starlings, and so on. If you’re lucky, a red-tailed hawk or owl might turn out. These days, though, with the signs of fall increasing daily, some long-absent friends are starting to return. I recently spotted a mixed flock of warblers assembling in a clump of poplars, and I expect to see kinglets in profusion before too long, winking their ruby crowns at me from dense bushes. Snow buntings won’t be far behind.

Between now and then, though, there are the Canada geese.

Mention geese at a party and you will divide the room. Some people loath them for their droppings, their honking, their commonness. Others respect them vaguely as a national symbol. But everyone agrees on the basics: messy, noisy, and common.

Pity the poor goose. Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American essayist and philosopher, once asked what our ideas of eternity would be like if the stars came out only once every thousand years, and I can’t help but wonder how Canada geese might have winged into our mythology, and our hearts, if they were clean, quiet, and rare. Would Millbrook have a Canada goose festival? Would we build shelters for winter stragglers? Pass laws protecting breeding grounds? It’s hard to say.

For myself, my recent walks among the people and birds of Millbrook have taught me two things: summer is fleeting, and goodness is common. Goodness is common as dirt, as necessary, and as fruitful. It’s something I recall when I see Canada geese coming in low over the old hockey arena and dipping their wings. It’s not something many people seem to know, but geese do this quite reliably: when they’re looking for a place to settle for the night a few will dip their wings over the pond, sometimes dramatically enough to become completely inverted. They do this as a signal to the others; they’re saying, here, this looks like a good place. Let’s stay here a while.

GET OUT! by Dennis Vanderspek


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