Lessons from a grey goose

In the video below, a retired man walks the path around a park’s manmade lake. Then one day a Toulouse goose starts following him. She is clearly smitten. CBS gets wind of the unlikely pair of friends. Thanks to the network (and to Susan Garland, who sent me the link) we can all catch a glimpse of Maria waddling beside her buddy. The story doesn’t end with the first video so take the time to watch the second as well. The link appears at the end of the video.

The chemistry of friendship is always mysterious, but the story of this unlikely pair is particularly moving. We know so little of the inner lives of animals. Too often we dismiss their emotions as “anthropomorphism”. We do likely misinterpret, due to our limitations in communicating with our fellow creatures. Still, who could watch this goose following her human pal around the park and not see her fondness for him?

Watch the short video, and then read on for my experience with Toulouse geese.

Breaking a goose’s heart

I once participated in breaking a goose’s heart. I still feel badly about that. My husband and I had a small acreage on Vancouver Island. Geese are such a traditional part of a mixed farm we just had to add some to ours. Among them were two grey Toulouse, like the one in the video, and an African.

Naively, we assumed the Toulouse female would partner with the Toulouse male. Instead, the more dominant African became her mate. When goslings came along, the grey became a kindly uncle, as attentive as the parents but never intrusive.

We were determined to have purebred goslings since our little farm was dedicated to preserving heritage breeds and seeds. So we sold the African male. Geese mate for life. We had ruptured a relationship, and Lucy wandered the farm for a week, honking forlornly, looking everywhere.

Finally she accepted the attentions of the Toulouse male and settled in to start another family. When the time for hatching had long passed, we removed the eggs from her nest while she was out feeding. Out of curiosity we cracked one and quickly reeled back from the stench of rot.

Old MacDonald’s farm moves north

Toulouse geese, Lucy and her two companions

Toulouse geese, Lucy and her two companions

When we moved from Vancouver Island to Cariboo country, in the heart of British Columbia, the geese came with us, along with pigs, sheep, goats, and ducks, loaded into the back of an aging, blue stock truck. By then friends had given us a third Toulouse.

They were amiable and contented in their new home until our Akbash guardian dog gave birth to her first litter. The growing pups loved to make the geese honk and run. In disgust, the three birds flew off into the swamp. Before we could retrieve them, a predator dispatched one of them.

Between our efforts to stop the chasing and the pups’ growing maturity, a truce grew between Lucy and her mate and the young pups. Akbash have been bred for livestock protection so the geese became just another part of the job the pups learned to do for us. One by one, other farms bought the pups to guard their stock, until only one was left.

One day we found the Toulouse male dead beside the big pup. There were no marks on the goose so we never accused the dog of killing the bird. The pup was likely just standing guard until we came. The goose was not young when we bought him and probably just came to the end of his years.

Alone again

That left Lucy on her own. Once again she grieved, then settled into a lonely but seemingly contented existence. Contented, at least, until the migrations of spring and fall brought flocks of Canada geese flying overhead, often stopping overnight to rest and feed. Then the loneliness of her single life seemed to penetrate her very bones. She would cry out to her wild relatives with the same mournful cry she saved for times of loss.

Those were the cries that rent my soul. Lucy’s hunger for a life whose call she could not answer was too like my own. She was an earthbound goose longing to be part of the flocks that rekindled her loneliness and then flew on. I was an urbanite who had tried hard to be a good farmer, knowing only ending my marriage would return me to the life that was a better fit for me.

So I did the one thing that could ease my soul. I wrote a poem about it. And six years later, I moved on.


The grey goose lifts her chest
And calls to wild relatives
Who fly over the pond
Where she keeps vigil
Since the morning her mate lay dead
Beside the dog’s paw.

Last fall there were three,
Together five years
Until the pups plagued them so.
They waddled and flew into the swamp.
Only two returned,
The grey and her Toulouse mate.

Five years he guarded her,
Kept watch as she grazed
Or sat a nest on eggs
That never hatched
But faithful,
As if this year they might,
As they had for her first mate.

When young she partnered with the African
While the Toulouse played worried uncle
To the goslings.
Wanting purebreds, we sold the African.
The grey cried a week
Before accepting comfort
From the worried uncle.

Twice mated, twice bereaved,
She swims the pond alone
Till summer brings her
Bufflehead and goldeneye.
Hardest are the seasons’ shifts,
Flying V’s that neither dip nor wait
Nor answer when she calls.

I know times like hers,
Here in my country home,
When the call of other lives, other loves
Makes me feel a stranger
Among boots and saddles.

©9/21/97 Cathryn Wellner

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5 comments for “Lessons from a grey goose

  1. August 7, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    What a hauntingly beautiful post.

  2. Michelle
    August 11, 2011 at 1:53 am

    Thanks for sharing yet another piece of your special soul Cathryn 🙂 xo

  3. August 11, 2011 at 7:07 am

    Michelle, Lydia – thank you to both of you beautiful young women. I really appreciate your comments – and you.

  4. August 13, 2011 at 5:12 pm

    Beautiful in many ways, Cathryn. Love the poem. Animals teach us so much and, one day, I hope they are truly valued and appreciated by everyone. A pipe dream I suspect, but one I hang on to nonetheless. Thanks for sharing this. –Daisy

  5. August 17, 2011 at 11:24 am

    If enough of us pay attention and talk about it, perhaps one day we’ll be more open to the lessons they have for us.

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