It was late morning when the goose stumbled across the pavement — oblivious to the danger from people driving too fast to notice the lone, tattered bird in the road. The goose wasn’t bleeding, not any longer. The blood had long since dried to rusty flecks down his breast and belly, but he could still taste it, every time he pushed his bill into one of his many wounds. One foot was stiff and painful with an even older injury, the web misshapen, and the goose swayed a little to that side with every faltering step, so that the feathers of one wing were broken from dragging against the ground.
Surprisingly, the goose’s eyes were clear, unusually so, like a human’s after a hard cry; they were focused intently on a cement silo set back from the road.
It was tall, this silo, the tallest object he had ever sat upon. He remembered the first time he had tried to land on the rounded dome — his feet had slipped out from under him and he would have slid down the shell on his tail feathers were it not for his ability to fly. Once he and his companion, a small female goose, managed to land, and stand on the dome, they had looked down upon a place where he and she had stayed for many months after they had been injured and then rescued from Lake Delavan after the last war. Wild things, winged and furred, knew this place, as well, and many times as the two geese sat upon the silo dome, they had felt the rush of wings from other birds that circled the sanctuary.
He was halfway down the road now, almost there. He heard the plaintive honking of other geese recently wounded, and rescued, and wanted to answer, but he needed his strength for his journey. Almost across from the sanctuary, his injured foot folded inward and he fell, right in the path of an oncoming car — rubber squealed as the tires spun away from the goose, who sat paralyzed with fear where it lay.
A man got out of the car and walked slowly over to the goose, speaking to it softly, trying to let it know he wasn’t a predator, and then he picked it up, gently, and took it the rest of the way to its destination, down Palmer Road toward Fellow Mortals.
* * * * *
I was the one who admitted that goose for care. After the man who had been kind enough to stop and help had left us, I laid the goose down on the exam room floor and looked over its many wounds. Only at the last did I notice the foot, which had a distinct injury. My heart was suddenly cold, sick. I was dumbfounded with realization, which was quickly followed by very physical despair.
The left foot was lumpy and scarred, broken at the middle joint to the outside of the web and scarred below — the result of shot that had torn the goose out of the sky over a year earlier — the reason I had rescued him and his female companion from Delavan Lake last Christmas. After months of rehabilitation, they finally recovered and I released them one beautiful spring day onto Williams Bay, just down the road from Fellow Mortals.
For months after their release, they were regular visitors, landing on the silo overlooking the waterfowl pen that they had shared with other geese also injured during the “war” that takes place routinely each fall, soon after the goslings have attained adult size. New families are formed where original ones are lost, but these were the only two geese who had ever returned regularly after being released back to the wild.
The goose had been shot in the breast, and the belly, and the head. I could feel a piece of shot in the soft tissue under the bill, and the breast and belly were peppered with holes; the right wing had a compound fracture, the bone protruding at the joint — but what was going to force me to take the life of this goose was the decay and rot caused by the maggots which were deep in the wounds and the body cavity — the goose hadn’t found help soon enough.
I was angry and I was sick at heart — angry at the stupidity that maimed but did not kill, sick at the realization that, with all of its terrible injuries, the goose had somehow known to make its way back to us, only to have that agonizing journey end in death.
I didn’t want to take this bird’s life inside a building, in the relative dark. I wanted him to see the sky, to take his leaving under the sun he knew, surrounded by sounds that did not threaten — singing birds, chattering squirrels, honking geese. Only the geese were silent.
We sat there a few minutes, his bloody body against mine, and I silently asked his forgiveness — for what he had suffered at the hands of humans, and for what I had to do to finish it. I touched the glossy feathers of his head, letting a tear fall into an open eye.
* * * * *
The goose sat perfectly still, silent next to its human companion. The goose was not angry, nor sick at heart. The goose was at peace. It had reached its destination — the place where it had never been threatened, never been hurt and never been hungry. He no longer felt any fear. He was home.
© 1999 Yvonne Wallace Blane
© 2021 Fellow Mortals, Inc.
W4632 Palmer Road | Lake Geneva, Wisconsin 53147
Phone: (262) 248-5055 | HOURS: 10 am – 6 pm