I used to live near a city park pond where several domestic geese resided. A wide paved walking path skirted the back of the pond, and at any season other than early spring, my wife, Carolyn, and I took this path as part of our soothing daily walks in the park. We avoided the pond path in the spring unless the geese were swimming or on the opposite side because we knew they could be aggressive if there were eggs or hatchlings around.
One spring day we checked and saw that the geese were lazily floating at the farthest-away corner and felt lucky and grateful that our favorite route wasn’t closed to us. When we were about a third of the way down this path, however, we noticed that all six or seven geese suddenly started swimming toward us. I’d never seen this behavior before. “Have you ever seen ’em do that, Carolyn?” No, she hadn’t either. They were so far away they couldn’t possibly be upset at us. Nevertheless, Carolyn and I changed our pace from stroll to fast hike. But when we sped up, so did the geese. They were straining their necks now, and they were on a direct collision course.
Now there’s a funny thing about my relationship to wild animals that occurred to me then. I basically depend on wild animals being afraid of me and either ignoring me or running away when they see me. But here was a flotilla of apparently angry geese bearing down on me at attack speed with what I realized was the intention to do me some bodily harm. And not just me but also my wife. While my self-preservation instinct was revving up, I was also acutely conscious of my manly role as protector of the womenfolk. I also realized the absurdity—the comicalness—of my circumstances. I remembered the unrelenting mockery President Jimmy Carter was subjected to when a swimming vicious rabbit attacked his canoe. And I remembered a story Carolyn had told me about one of her cousins—a guard at a corporate facility that included a pond. One time when she was patrolling the pond perimeter, a goose sneaked up behind her and bit her on the butt. She didn’t know what was happening and instinctively drew her pistol. Company policy required guards to file a report whenever they pulled their weapons, so she was soon a laughingstock, constantly being asked, “Have you had any more gunfights with pissed-off poultry?” and “Where did it bite you again?”
So bearing all this in mind—the physical threat to both me and my wife, my role as manly protector, and the risk of embarrassment and ridicule—I swiftly decided on a course of action and took control of the situation. I turned to Carolyn and said, “Run!”
Maybe that sounds like a less-than-brilliant plan to you, but it was in fact a solid solution. We could run (properly motivated) faster than the attack geese could swim, so we might have to sacrifice our dignity, but we were going to escape the threatened confrontation.
Except for one little flaw in the plan. When we began to run, the geese started flapping their wings and in two seconds were airborne.
To this day, The Wizard of Oz is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. It terrified me as a child, and in the whole movie, the most frightening scene to me is the flying monkeys.
That’s how I felt as the geese flew straight at us. When they reached us, they streaked at eye level only 2 feet from our heads, exactly matching our speed and paralleling our course. They were so close we heard their wing flap. Chased by flying monkeys. My nightmare come true. I had no brain, no heart, no courage. I certainly had no dignity.
And as I fled for my life in unabashed terror, I wondered why I had even come on this walk. Why did I ever leave the house when after all—“there’s no place like home; there’s no place . . . like home.”
My thanks to Wildacres Writers Retreat, where this piece was written.