Saturday, June 5, 2010


The first brood of Canada goslings of the season -- at least that we've seen.

Back in the Chicago area, Canada geese are considered pests. They're everywhere and befoul everything. They're aggressive and annoying.

But up here in the wilderness of Lake Superior, we look at them in a different way: they're wild and majestic, because they belong here.

My friend, neighbor and fellow writer Tom Warren said it best in his new book Discovering Lake Superior . . . and the Western Upper Peninsula of Michigan (Amphitryon Publishing): "They are splendid creatures, who in a few months grow from an egg to a ten-pounder capable of flying great distances in a social formation," and "they thrill me when I see them naturally in the UP. There I consider geese pretty good hosts who welcome us. That is, most of the time they don't move away, they don't attack us, and they don't poop in our space. If any of these things occur, I proclaim in a know-it-all tone, it's because of us, not them."

Observing these birds out our front window gives us extraordinary pleasure. Last year we watched as Mama and Papa Goose escorted clutches of fuzzballs from the nearby creek out into the lake past our cabin, and we reacted with dismay as the number of tiny goslings diminished each week, no doubt victims of predators such as owls, eagles and snapping turtles.

Last evening we saw the first broods of the season, and were surprised at how large the goslings had grown before their parents brought them out of hiding. Maybe they were the same parents who had lost their families last year, and this year had wised up enough to wait until the youngsters were bigger before introducing them to the open water.

Whether geese are actually capable of learning in this way, I don't know. But I like to think they are.

They may not be as wild as one might assume. The other day, as an experiment, I threw slices of old stale bread into the water as a flotilla of geese steamed past some 50 yards offshore. Every one of them did a 90-degree turn and stormed the beach, hissing and cackling, fighting for the bread, ignoring me a few steps away. Maybe they had lost their fear of humans while wintering somewhere to the south on a lush suburban golf course.

This reminds me of another passage in Tom's book. When he is out on the lake in his canoe, "I notice how tiny our spot of land is and how the whole scene is not nearly as pristine and natural as I convince myself when I am on land or closer to shore. It's another example of how I con myself into thinking the North Woods is still unspoiled and then I am reminded of the truth: This place is fragile, and occupied."

Wise fellow.

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