Sunday, June 8, 2008

Sherman's Visit

A month-old Canadian gosling came to our house for a visit. Someone brought him to the Humane Society of Central Oregon when he was three or four days old and said that they had found him abandoned. You never know the true back stories of animals brought to the HS, and foster care givers are only told what is known if it is pertinent for the care of the animal. When Sherman was brought in, the Coordinator for the Foster Program took him to her family’s seven acres and put him with their ducks and a domestic goose. Every evening Sherman and the rest of the fowl were rounded up and herded into a pen to keep them from being coyote bait.

The coordinator had to be away from home for a week and was concerned about Sherman being left on his own at such a young age, so he came to our house. We don’t have seven acres or a pond, but we do have a fenced almost half acre. Since my wife, who is the foster care giver in our family, was preoccupied with three different sets of kittens, some well and some sick, I agreed to look out for Sherman.

Right away, Sherman made clear that he didn’t like being put in a dog kennel at night or being penned up outside during the day. After the first day, we decided to turn him loose in the back yard and see how he interacted with our dogs—a black lab mix and a long-haired terrier mix. They were curious about each other; Sherman was not afraid. They sniffed each other’s behinds (Sherman had to get up pretty good to reach the lab’s but he did) and they accepted each other.

Then, on the second day, it happened. Sherman attached himself to me, following me wherever I went. When the terrier would start barking at something outside the yard (as is her wont), Sherman would get closer to me, touching the side of my leg as I walked. As we got better acquainted, Sherman sometimes seemed to want to lead and for me to follow. I followed and after a while he would resume his place behind me. I wondered about what I had heard about Canadian geese and how they rotate places with the leader.

Sherman couldn’t understand at all why he couldn’t come into the house with me and the dogs. On the first day, he pecked at the glass door to the veranda and made known his desire to be inside with us. Since I’ve never heard of a goose that was house-trained, Sherman didn’t come in. Even though the weather was cold, I found myself spending time outside with him.

He nibbled on the grass nearby but spent much of his time on the veranda waiting for someone to come outside. I was amazed at the amount of grass he consumed, and astounded at his output. Keeping the “logs” picked up off the veranda was a major chore. You can see that he dropped one just as I took his picture. This little gosling’s output every day was more than that of our two dogs combined. I’ve heard that gosling manure is good fertilizer. I’ll see.

I had to remind myself that Sherman was a “wild” goose and will one day fly away. When geese flew over our house, Sherman would look up and offer his squeak-squeak in response to their honks. They didn’t pay him any mind, but they will. Two years ago, the coordinator had two other orphaned Canadian geese. When they learned to fly they took off in the fall with other geese. This year they came back with their “husbands” to visit. She knows it was them because she had banded them. Sherman runs and flaps his pin feathers ever day. One day in the early fall, he will probably join a flock headed south. But some Canadians choose not to migrate at all. That’s one of the things that Sherman will decide by something inside him about which we don’t have a clue.

Have you seen the movie
Fly Away Home? This 1996 movie tells how a father and daughter decide to attempt to lead a flock of orphaned Canada Geese south by air. The film is loosely based on the real-life experiences of Bill Lishman, a Canadian inventor, artist, and ultralight aircraft hobbyist. Lishman successfully led a flock of Canada Geese on a winter migration from Ontario, Canada to Northern Virginia, U.S.A. Of the 16 birds that participated in the migration, all of them returned the following year to their front yard. If you are interested in the mystery of geese and a great story, check it out.

After seven days at our house, Sherman went back home. The coordinator tells me that he is much less people oriented now that he has ducks around him again. Every day he works hard flapping his wings preparing for flight.

Politics is important, and I’ll get back to writing about it in a day or two. But right now I’m remembering my week with Sherman—one of life’s delightful mysteries —and how grateful I am for foster care givers who give of themselves for all creatures, great and small.

- Milo

Update: In response to my posting on Daily Kos I received a comment with this link to a video about an orphaned grey heron:

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