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Golden Goose on the Levee

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

I had a talk to give, the maiden voyage of the Baby Birds talk! And for once, I was all set up. Liam helped me haul all the books and puzzles and notecards up the stairs and into the lecture room in the science building at Marietta College. I made sure the projector played nicely with my laptop.  Set it all up and shut it all down. We had a few minutes before we had to be at the Levee House for dinner with two friends. I looked out over the Ohio River and saw a sunset in progress. 

Looking into the sun, it took me a few moments to see that the levee was lined with waterfowl. Ring-billed gulls were beating their way up and downriver. The beauty of the scene took my breath away.

I knew it was going to be awhile before I could tear myself away.

There was a lone figure out there, bundled up in a parka, feeding the ducks and geese. I noted with approval that she had corn for them, not the white bread that can cause malnutrition and birth defects when it's their staple diet. For the gulls, she had fresh whole-wheat bread.  No moldy dry stuff for her birds!

Her name was Dorothy, and I knew right away she must be a regular, because the birds were completely at ease with her. She referred to them by proper names, as if they were neighbors
or ladies of the club. I regret to say that I have forgotten what she called the big tan Toulouse goose. Greta? I think it was Greta.

I know this goose; I'd photographed her in November of 2014 with her three grown kids, obviously the product of an illicit interspecies marriage; Canada x Toulouse.

The domestic Toulouse breed (famed for pate`) was derived from the wild greylag goose native to Eurasia.  So it's pretty interesting that a Toulouse could breed with a Canada. Waterfowl on the whole are pretty open to such unions, and some interesting hybrids result. Her three kids were a little odd-looking,  showing some wild-type greylag features as well as dilute Canada markings. But they were fully functional. Meaning they could fly like their free-wheelin' Dad and unlike their fatbottom mama. Poor thing. We'd bred her too heavy of bone, breast,  leg, liver and butt to be able to lift it all off.

My heart about broke in two when the three young hybrids took off for a night roost on the other side of the river

leaving Greta honking mournfully and swimming slowly in the direction they'd gone. No!
I pictured her dodging huge but deadly-silent barges in the gathering dark. Ahh, Greta. They leave us, don't they? They just up and fly away.

I'd see Greta and her kids again, so I figured this heart-rending exodus must be a nightly event. At any rate, she was hangin' in there, no matter what the kids were up to.

 So now, leap from November 2014 to February 2016, and here's Greta, with no sign of the kids. But she's got Dorothy and her corn to keep her warm. Dorothy's telling me about a gull with a bad eye that she feeds; a mallard with a bad wing. Such waifs congregate where there are free handouts. Hangin' out under the bridge, eatin' government cheese.

 And all the while the tugs pushed barges upriver and down.  It was a magical scene: tug/barge combo going by, bone-breaking cold at 14 degrees, a Muscovy x mallard (Pekin) cross helping himself to corn right out of the bucket.

Think I'll set a spell. He was about choking on all that dry corn. And my horizon line got a little skewed as I tottered in a parka'ed squat, trying to take it all in.

Finally beautiful Greta moved in and claimed the corn bucket. Lit so by the dying sun, she was spectacular. Who cares if she can't fly. Greta gets by.

She looked like the World's Largest Toulouse Goose. She looked like a dinosaur. 

Those twenty minutes I spent with Dorothy and her biggest fans were among the best of a very good day. I have been working on myself to overcome my inherent shyness and strike up conversations with people. My father could chew the rag with anyone. I remember his coming back from those conversations with tidbits about unfamiliar places that he couldn't get any other way. Sometimes he'd have a restaurant recommendation; Dod was Diners,  Drive-ins and Dives waaay before it was cool.
One of his stock questions was, "What do they make around here?"
I always loved that one. It always amazed me that people generally knew what kind of tool or implement or furniture "they" made around their town. I remember when it turned out to be clocks, in Waterbury, Connecticut, and pistols in Hartford (Colt Firearms).  Now Dod smiles down on me when I ask people what they make around here.

Dorothy and I are now Facebook friends, which is a cool way to get to know someone. You get to see what they find interesting and beautiful. But you still need to be able to talk with people in real life. It's a skill, one that should be cultivated. It's how you find out the good stuff.

I found Dorothy and Greta and the sunset and the tugs and the old Ohio River slipping by interesting and beautiful. Greta seemed to know what a figure she cut with her candy-corn orange bill against the snow and the pewter water, and she posed for me as we watched a mighty tug push a barge upriver.

Are you getting me, the tug, the bridge, and the whole barge? Because you should get the whole barge. It's a really long one.

OK. I'm smiling. Did you take the picture?

I got it, Greta.

UPDATE: Dorothy informs me that Greta Goose (I had her name right!) can indeed fly! and showed her trio how to fly all the way across the river and back. And two days ago she flew up from the water's edge to the top of the levee! I wouldn't have thought it possible, with a butt like that. But we all know about assumptions. They make an a-- of you.

 Most of the time, Dorothy reports, Greta prefers to take her time and walk. Don't hurry, be happy. Now That's a Good Goose! 


I remember that post from Nov 2014 and was touched by it. Dorothy sounds wonderful and the comments about your dad made me smile. Nice of Liam to help you out.

Posted by Lucy from MN February 17, 2016 at 7:31 PM

Beautiful post! You made me smile and tear up simultaneously once again. I'm glad that Greta is still hanging in there; it can't be easy to be unable to fly when all your peers can. Thank goodness there are people like Dorothy to care about them. Brava, Dorothy!

Posted by Anonymous February 18, 2016 at 3:41 AM

Another jewel, life-enriching partner. Thank you. What an evening on the river. And then you went to work! Do I believe in magic? You bet. Xxoom

Interesting to hear you say you are working on your inherent shyness. I think that you already have the key--you talk to people about things of substance. Not small talk--but the big stuff, the essentials.
Not sure if you would call yourself an introvert--but I call myself that. And I am. But I also enjoy striking up conversations with people--overcoming my own shyness.
And--the nice thing about being shy? You can always talk to the animals.

This might be my favorite of your posts. Beautiful story and pictures.

Sweet! A greylag/domestic goose moved in with our resident Canadas about five years ago. I have never seen him/her with goslings, but he/she does fly. I go back every year to take its photo. Yay, Greta, yay new friends in new places, and thanks for this delightful post.

I love reading your blog - you have so many wonderful, interesting stories and photos and I've learned so much from you. However, I think this story has to be at the top of my list! Thank you for sharing this!

your writing is tantalizing Julie. I admire your ability to see so much in a scene others would barely give a glance to. I can just imagine her mournful honking as her young ones take off. It reminded me of that feeling when saying goodbye to my two young ones. Wondering how I can go on without them but knowing they have to go. I love the photos and love your writing. So happy to have connected with you. The simplicity of your writing reveals the depth of your writing.

such inspiration in your thoughts, it's ease and flow, beauty and simplicity ~ life is good . thank you

Julie, I'm so glad you had the few minutes to meet Dorothy and all of her friends along the Ohio that very cold morning. It made me smile to think of fatbottom Greta Goose taking up with a Canada. My husband & I were watching many still here around Toledo just 10 days ago. They have finally left, probably puzzling about our strange winter.
Your Father's way to open conversation with people is a good one in any time. I often ask a person when we are traveling, "How far have you come to be here today?" One of my favorite answers was (at a lighthouse near Traverse City),"Oh we have flown from England today!"

Nice post - enjoyed seeing the geese and reading about it. I haven't seen our geese yet this year.

Like Dorothy, we enjoy feeding the ducks and other birds.

I, too, need intro lines, and your Dad's is a good one which I will be adding to my list. Lovely pictures and back story.

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