03.08.13 I love the wild geese in Spring. V-formations are everywhere overhead and I could endlessly watch as individuals take their turn at the lead, and congregations join together, separate again, and join yet another group. Great gatherings descend on the golf course near partly frozen ponds and their racket drowns out all other bird songs. I imagine them having conversations with one another that go something like, “well, where did you go for the winter this year?” or “so, how was the weather down there?”. And, in the case of the geese who stayed put for the winter, I wonder if they are smugly gossiping with each other about how the snowbirds are getting soft.
They mate for life, and we welcome back the pairs we think we know from previous years. There’s the couple who take up position right along the busy state highway a few miles from our house. Johnson’s Pond is always still frozen when they arrive, but them seem oblivious to the logging trucks and roar of cars that speed by, mere feet from where they hang out. We count the number of goslings that arrive each year and hold our breaths that they will somehow cross the highway, when it’s time, and make their waddle down to our lake. We have Hamm’s geese–named after old Hamm who died many years ago–who nest somewhere around his dock to the south of us. Often the pair are standing way at the top of our chimney, honking down at us when we descend the stone steps down to our house.
And, always, I think of my favorite Mary Oliver poem, “Wild Geese.”
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
I know people whose lives have been changed by this poem. It’s that important that “you don’t have to be good.”