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Saving Mr. Lonely

Thursday, November 17, 2016

I met Dorothy Lowe and was formally introduced to Mr. Lonely and Greta on February 16, 2016. I was about to give my very first talk on Baby Birds: An Artist Looks Into the Nest, to the Marietta Natural History Society, and I was uncharacteristically nervous. The first outing of a talk I've worked on for many weeks is always problematic.  I hope it'll all hang together. I hope people will like it. I hope I'll come in under 50 minutes. I hope the projector setup will work, and nothing will go suddenly black. I didn't even have the book yet; it would come out in April, so sales would be nil. I was just hoping I'd get through it.

It was a frigid evening, but there was a fabulous sunset going on so I walked from The Levee House, where the MNHS would be having a little speaker's dinner, down to the levee itself. I wanted to breathe, take some photos, look at the ducks and geese that hang around there all day long.

And there was a little figure there, bundled up like an Eskimo, feeding corn to the geese and ducks.

We fell to talking, of course, and I liked her right away. The faithful kind, the kind of person who doesn't let freezing wind and onrushing dark stay her from her appointed round with the birds she obviously treasured.

Don't miss the gigantic barge steaming by, pushed by a big tug.

Dorothy introduced me to Greta, a domestic greylag, who helps herself right from the bucket. She's the Queen of the Levee. I was charmed, all around. I like people who love animals and do what they can to help them. We talked about nutrition, and I said I was glad to see the geese getting corn instead of bread, which can cause deformities like angel wing, rendering them flightless. Dorothy knew all about that. One of the reasons she feeds the geese and ducks is to educate people who throw bread to them, to give them something better.

It was good to see the birds filling up on corn before the bitter night came. This is what keeps Dorothy visiting the Levee, day after day, year in and year out.

Greta, believe it or not, mated successfully with a Canada gander who gave her three just slightly not Canada children. A bit heavy in the beam, with pale flesh legs and indistinct chin straps; they're nevertheless fully flighted.

Anyway, speaking of hybrids, there's been a goose down at the Marietta Levee for years. Best I can tell, he's the product of a Canada x Chinese swan-necked goose. I see that in his longer neck, and in his high forehead, and the square black top of his deep bill. Dorothy calls him Mr. Lonely, because he's never taken another mate since he lost his a couple of years ago. 

On November 2, Dorothy tagged me in a Facebook post. She'd found Mr. Lonely all tangled up in monofilament. It was wrapped around both his legs. Thanks, slob fishermen; you are legion, and you must clean up after yourselves. Monofilament fishing line is deadly stuff, and it can take months to kill a creature that gets tangled in it. You need to care about that and pack your snarls out with you when you leave. Least you can do!!

 He'd been footbound for four days at least, and he was stuck, she thought, in the rocks on the levee. She wondered what could be done to help him. By the time I saw the post, it was night. I immediately offered to come and see what I could do the first thing in the morning. Before going to sleep, I packed my kit, laid out my clothes, and was ready to go at 7 AM. Had to wait for it to get light!

There he was, with Dorothy standing guard. I love that woman. I'd worn my hiking boots and brought a staff because the footing was iffy. Dorothy thought the monofilament must be caught on something because he hadn't moved for more than a day. I picked my way down the rocks, using a staff for balance.
I was just about to pick Mr. Lonely up when he spread his one good wing and lurched away, into the deep water. D'OH!!! Oh no!! He hadn't been trapped at all. And I wasn't ready when he made his move. He swam with one foot paddling all the way out to the middle of the Ohio River, taking care to avoid the wake of a barge being pushed silently by. Dang it!!

Dorothy and I were undeterred. We were going to get that goose. I made backup plans to drive the 18 miles back home and get my canoe. I called Liam and asked him to bring our net hammock so I could throw it over Mr. Lonely.  To find the snake tongs and throw those in the car, too. We'd get that goose. Dorothy called and shook her pail of corn, and by and by Mr. Lonely came about and swam toward us. She decided to lead him slowly toward the levee, where it would be easier for him to come ashore. His right leg was bound up high against his side, and he was swimming with only one foot. Combine having one foot out of commission with a long-since broken left wing, and he was severely compromised.

Dorothy lured him in. At that point, I started moving quietly in. Mr. Lonely was suspicious of me, since I'd tried to grab him once before. He wouldn't come closer. I realized that I was thinking intently of just how I'd grab him if I could get close enough. Duh! Clear your mind, Zick! He can see your pictures!

I stopped, became still, and cleared my mind completely of such acquisitive thoughts. I replaced them with a mental picture of Mr. Lonely filling his crop with corn, out of my hand. I knelt with a handful of corn, and played a little movie in my mind of Mr. Lonely swimming up and eating. And he swam up and shyly began eating from my hand. Oh man. This was too good to be true. 

It's called thinking in pictures. It's what animal whisperers do. You can do it, too. Practice on your pets!

I kept that mental picture going, refilled my corn hand a couple of times, and very gradually brought him closer to shore. I knew I would have one, and only one, chance to grab him. He was eating from my left hand. I slowly brought my right hand nearer, and when he was gobbling most happily away, my right arm lashed out like a striking rattler and grabbed him firmly by the neck.  I hauled a very surprised Mr. Lonely onto the levee, threw my arms around his thrashing wing and legs, and ran up high onto the grassy bank so if he managed to get away from me, I'd have plenty of room to chase him back down. No swimming back out into the middle of the river for him!

In my vest pocket I'd put wet wipes, triple antibiotic cream, tiny manicure scissors, and just in case, a clipper that would sever bone. I didn't know what I'd find when I finally got him in my arms, so I needed to be prepared for any eventuality. 

I was very relieved to find the monofilament had yet to cut through his skin. And it wasn't looped over his wings. Oh, hooray! He could still move the bound foot, and it was still fairly warm, which told me there was some circulation getting through. It wasn't as warm as the unbound foot, but it was alive, with only a little swelling. Good, good, good. In this video you see me discovering that his left wing is attached to his body only by the patagial membrane; the humerus had long since been broken, years earlier. Nothing I could or would be able to do about that, so I kept at what I could fix. 

Dorothy shot this video, and I've brought it to you via the just-discovered magic of Facebook video sharing. They'll give you a code to embed the video in your blog. Whoot! 


Sweet Mr. Lonely. He seems to know that I'm helping him. I imagine how it feels to have sharp, cutting monofilament cut off your feet after four days of being tightly bound, and am not surprised that he's more or less supine in my arms. Oh happy, happy day. You lucky goose. This does not keep him from voiding twice, on my pants. That's OK. That's why I love nylon pants. Cleaned it off with wet wipes (thanks Dorothy!) and wore them the rest of the day. Helps to be unfussy if you're going to muck about with ducks and geese.

Thank God almighty he's free at last! And I was so happy to be able to help him and Dorothy, too. Right after this photo was taken, I sent it to Liam and told him to go on to class; we wouldn't need the hammock or snake tongs. Hooray!!

Mr. Lonely put his right foot down gingerly; held it  up again; put it down, then slowly walked down the levee toward his safe place, the river. I blinked back tears to see him realizing he could use both legs again.

I went back to get a photo of the Virginia creeper setting the riprap afire. 

I came back the next day looking for Mr. Lonely, but found only the creeper, now lit by the sun. That was enough. Lost the bridge reflection, but oh those piles of clouds. Oh oh oh the sun on the water. 

Last Saturday I had to be in town for several reasons, so I went back down to the levee. It had been nine days since I put Mr. Lonely down to walk away under his own steam. I hoped I'd see him this time. 

And there he was, sitting atop the levee with a few Canada friends. 

I hated to make him get up, but I drew close enough to get a good look at his legs, and make sure they were working well. Yes indeed. Mr. Lonely was whole again, as whole as an old one-winged hybrid goose is going to get. I marveled that he has beat the odds, being unflighted, living here on what he can scrounge from kind people, somehow avoiding the bald eagles that fly up and down the river year round now. I don't understand how he does it, but I'm glad he does. He's a good goose.

When I got back to my car, there was a quack-in going on all around my car. It was almost all boys. I smiled and squatted down to talk with them awhile. It felt like a benediction. I walked very slowly through the quackus, thinking how enriching it is to have a relationship with birds and animals; to have some rudimentary lines of communication to the Other Nations. To love them enough to stop and help, and be loved right back.


This is so lovely. Like a breath of fresh air. I have been despondent and pert near inconsolable since the election. Crying off and on worrying about the future of our country and selfishly my own future if they actually mess with Medicare and Social Security (that I've been paying into continuously for going on 40 years).

I got teary reading your last paragraph, but they were happy tears. Yes, having a connection with the "other Nations" will help us all start to heal. So happy for Mr. Lonely! Thank you, I SO needed this today...

(also excited to find I can post to you blog from my phone! Haven't been able to from a computer for years!)

Thanks so much, this was wonderful. Thank you for You!

Great story. When you first said they think in pictures, I had thought that for awhile and it is great to get confirmation. When I found woodstorks in the cypress trees on Piney Z Monday, I started picturing the big meet and great and a dozen more flew in above me and landed in the tress along with a spoonbill and great blue heron. It's very exciting to learn how to communicate with animals!!! Thanks, Jules!

I'll have to try the thinking in pictures suggestion. I always wondered how "whisperers" did it. Thanks for the action packed story with a happy ending!

I am so grateful that there are people like you in the world. With the "haters" getting all the attention these days, it's reassuring to know that there are also "lovers"... you just have to look for them. Thank you for saving Mr. Lonely, who I seem to remember you writing about before.

Posted by Anonymous November 17, 2016 at 5:48 PM

A hero to many, that's you. Thank you! I teared up a bit too -- a combination of your good work and also seeing Marietta, my former home, in pictures and remembering being there at the Levee often. I tend to think in pictures most (all?) of the time, just my natural way. Sometimes I've wondered if that's why I am a slow reader, also rarely quick with a comeback. I do think it has contributed to me being a good editor and referred to as a "cat whisperer" by my husband. I'm now going to try the technique intentionally with other creatures. I hope your talk went well. Kim in PA

You restore my faith in human nature. Your story made my day.

The best post yet.

I love this post!

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God bless you and Dorothy Lowe both. I saw your photo on Instagram and kept meaning to ask if that was one of the geese from your post this spring. Thanks for the update on Mr. Lonely after you got the fishing line off him too.

Benediction indeed! Your story is salve for my soul. Thank you for all that you do, and that Dorothy does. And Mr. Lonely you are also Mr. Loved!

This one made me cry.... When I get back to Ohio I gather up my sister and we head to the Levee House for to have lunch. These photos look like they're so close to there. Anyway, I miss my sister, I miss Ohio, but I SO much enjoy your posts. Your last few posts about your watercolor of the birds is wonderful. I may live in Mexico right now, but my heart is still in SE Ohio.... thanks so much!

Couldn't love this more! I love that this is your family business. I might get texts from my family that they need me to bring toilet paper or salt because the walkway is icy. Liam gets bird rescue supply SOSs. It's the same model! Thanks to you I have 200 pounds of corn to enjoy sharing with animals.
I've recently started to bond with photography and have had some decent luck capturing the animals around me. I realized reading this that my strategy of simply asking them to move a little here or a little closer might actually be a "thing". Still working on it though as I had a glorious encounter with a buck last week but he got a little too close and I couldn't get his feet in the shot. Oh well, I got him smiling!

there is a big bear hunt going on now in our state, and protests from people who hate to see the bodies being dragged in- I read a lot of commentary today from folks saying how people who relate too closely to animals "must have some psychological problem." Wish I could force them to live in your brain for a year, and maybe it would teach them a thing or two :(

Yes, we LOVE the other Nations too. So many beautiful beings inhabit this precious Earth. Thanks for helping this one. :)

Oh, you are my hero!! Someone after my own animal/nature-loving heart! What a wonderful feeling that must be knowing you helped Mr. Lonely Goose when he needed rescuing!! I live in an area near some protected woods. We have visiting raccoons, a family of 5 or 6 large crows, and squirrels that come to our house from all up and down the street for peanuts and bird seed. Because we are in west central Florida, we have robins now, too. Usually they aren't around until cold and rainy January to February. We've had little rain, and it's not cold, but I can hear the woody-whistle & chirps of the robins as they fly from tree to tree and back again each day! We also have families of sandhill cranes throughout this area, but no geese that I've seen. We do have mallards, though, wherever there's a pond!

Thanks for being a friend to wildlife, a writer who shares wonderful & inspiring stories, and breathtaking art!! (Your books will be in Santa's bag for me this year, because I'll slip them in to make sure!!)

Julie, I remember so well the story of Mr. Lonely. It came to me when I needed a distraction from my husband's brain surgery. That, though, takes nothing away from reading this again and feeling just how big your heart is. I wonder if Mr. Lonely is still around? You are an extremely talented writer, bird mender, and human being!

Posted by Chris in CT January 6, 2020 at 4:30 PM
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