Saturday, September 29, 2012

My Unsuccessful War With Geese

It was one of those beautiful summer days that poets write about.  The sun was shining and there was a light, cool breeze coming off of the lake.  It felt like the world was at my fingertips!  Determined to seize the day, I jumped on my bicycle and took off for a lovely trail that runs along the harbor.

The chirping of birds and the scurrying of squirrels greeted me as I pedaled along.  Such wonderful sights and sounds.  I was totally engrossed in the serenity of it all!

Suddenly, about half an hour into my bike ride, I head the tell-tale honking of geese overhead.  It's a common sound in this neck of the woods.  Hundreds of them spend the summer in our town, waddling along the shore of the harbor, hanging out in vacant lots, and scrounging around city parks.  They're an iconic symbol of the Northland, and such an everyday thing that I didn't even think to look up at them.  That turned out to be a good thing, perhaps.  For a moment after I heard the honking of the geese, I heard another sound - a "splat".  Something wet and heavy had landed on the top of my bike helmet.  I'll leave it to your imagination to figure out what it was!

I was flabbergasted!  I mean what are the odds of a goose dropping a fertilizer bomb right, smack dab on top of my helmet?  My brow scrunched up in an angsty way, as I wiped my helmet on the grass.  After a few moments though I composed myself.  "After all", I told myself, "poop happens".  So I got back on my bike and continued on my ride, determined not to let the incident cast a rain cloud over my lovely summer day.

Events would unfold in the weeks ahead though that suggested that this incident was not a fluke of chance, but rather a warning, deliberately sent by the geese.

My first hint that the fertilizer bomb wasn't a one off was when I was walking in the park and a group of geese aggressively charged at me.  They're lowered heads and hissing sounds definitely communicated that they meant business, and I was smart enough to high tail it out of there.  Nothing like that had ever happened to me before.  I had no idea geese could be so rude and aggressive!

Then, later that same week, I was almost knocked off my bike when a goose, who had been hidden behind a some brush, suddenly flew up and nearly collided with my head.  It was WAY too close for comfort!  At this point I started to suspect that these happenings were not mere coincidences.  Something was going on here.

The question that consumed my thoughts in the days that followed was, "why?"  Why on earth were the geese treating me this way?  I'm not an anti-goose person, like some, in fact I think of myself as very pro-goose!  Sure, they sometimes muck up the shoreline, and nobody likes to step in their ever present droppings when walking in a park, but I've always pointed out it's not like our species hasn't done worse! 

Trying to figure out why the geese were gunning for me became all consuming obsession. I  thought about it night and day.  I kept wracking my brain, trying to figure out what on earth could have ruffled their feathers.  Then, one day, the answer was right there in front of me, staring at me right through a pane of glass.

The revelation took place in the parking garage that is underneath my workplace.  It's where I park my bike every day.  Generally it's a gray, lifeless cement wasteland - but to my delight, this summer a family of pigeons made their home on top of one of the air ducts.  Every morning and evening I'd see the momma and poppa pigeon flying about, bringing food to their always hungry youngster.  They were always working so hard, so I started helping them out a bit.  I'd bring food scraps from the cafeteria and leave them on the ground underneath their duct.  It not being their first rodeo, they'd quickly swoop down and take the food up to baby.  It was such a treat watching them feed that voracious little bugger!  But one day, as I turned around to go back to work, the smile on my face dropped to the ground and shattered into a million pieces.  There, on the other side of the window, was a goose!  It was standing in the alley looking in, glowering at me.  I knew then what this was all about.

As humans we've gotten used to wars between nations.  It seems every time I turn on the television the president is announcing that he is bombing someone or other.  We forget sometimes, that our species isn't the only cantankerous one out there.  Birds too, have their ugly conflicts with one another.  They too have their own set of long standing rivalries, temporary alliances, and senseless acts of violence!

Here, in the Twin Ports, there is a long running three-way battle between pigeons, seagulls and geese.  There are other lesser factions too, and sometimes a little war will flare up around them - I'm talking here about birds like the hawks, ducks, robins, sparrows, etc.  But it's the pigeons, seagulls and geese that are the main feuding super-powers around here. 

Each group of birds has their home turf, but they're always launching forays into their rivals domain to steal food, and to test the balance of forces.  The seagulls hang out in Canal Park and Barkers Island.  The pigeons have the downtown business district and the parking garages, and geese run the city parks and the lesser used parts of the harbor shoreline. 

So here I was, inside a downtown parking garage - in the heart of pigeon country.  It hadn't even occurred to me that my little food drops were something any other birds could even see - but that angry, glowering goose told me otherwise now.  What I had meant as acts of kindness for a bedraggled pigeon family, the geese no doubt interpreted as giving aid and comfort to their enemy.

The look on that goose was enough to freeze diesel fuel.  I quickly hurried away and went inside.  I've never being comfortable with confrontation.  On one hand, it was something of a relief to have finally figured out why the geese were treating me like there was a bull's-eye on my back.  But on the other hand, I was upset at the thought that they would treat me so just for leaving breadcrumbs for a chirping little pigeonette.  I shouldn't have to choose sides in this silly war between birds!

The more I thought about it, the more the whole situation made me angry.  My overall attitude towards the geese was turning resentful.  Whenever I'd hear their hissing and honking I'd ignore them.  I knew they were there, and they knew I knew they were there, but I wouldn't didn't want to give them the satisfaction of even acknowledging them.  And as the summer wore on, my passive aggressiveness towards them escalated.  I began to acknowledge them again, but only to glower back at them every time I'd bike by a herd of them lounging in a field or park.  And let me tell you, that baby pigeon became the fattest baby pigeon the world has ever seen.  I started making a point to deliver cafeteria food three, four or even five times a day!

I shouldn't have taken it as far as I did though.  Things got so tense, and so ugly, that they eventually culminated in a humiliating incident.  One morning, I was biking over the bridge from Superior to Duluth.  The sun was rising and it lit up the sky in the most beautiful of colors.  I stopped halfway up the bridge to take in the scene.  It was so beautiful!  But then I noticed that below me, in the water beneath the bridge, were several dozen geese.  I noticed that oddly enough they were facing away from me.  Every single one of them.  I furrowed my brow as I thought about what the odds had to be for every one of them to be facing the same way like this.  Then, suddenly, as if on cue, they started dipping their heads in the water and sticking their tales up in the air.  I watched this for a moment or two before I gasped in horror when I realized what they were doing.  They were mooning me!  "What awful, rude geese you all are!" I bellowed.  But that wasn't enough to satiate my anger.  Seeing them repeatedly flashing their exposed bird butts at me ruffled MY feathers so thoroughly that I decided to return fire with fire.  I pushed my bike aside, turned around, and dropped my shorts.  That's right, I mooned them right back!  "Two can play at this game," I said out loud.

The grin of satisfaction that had spread across my face quickly froze, and then disappeared as I realized where I was and what I was doing.  I was standing on top of the bridge, mooning a bunch of geese, during morning rush hour!  Dozens and dozens of cars were zooming by, no doubt chuckling and guffawing at my expense.  My face turned a hundred shades of red!  Clumsily I fumbled for my shorts and pulled them back up.  I climbed back on my bike and sheepishly pedaled away.  That day I stopped feeding the baby pigeon.  THE END

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