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Sight of geese in flight stirs memories

Jottings senior column


Every day the geese come, flying in a "V" formation over the trees to the sandy cove at the river bend where George Rogers Park meets the water. Every day I am riveted anew as they swoop into view, circle low and land simultaneously, with a swooshing sigh and skid to a stop.

Bobbing, still occasionally honking to each other, they slowly paddle in toward the beach, take up their habitual station near the rocks and settle down to await developments. In the quiet of the morning, the sun sparkles on the surface and an occasional oarsman skulls silently upriver, oars dipping and flashing.

I walk my dog, Poppy, down the cement steps from the grassy area above in the park and throw her ball into the river. We are a few yards from the geese but they are unafraid until she reaches it, grabs it in her strong Labrador jaws and returns to me and drops it at my feet. We repeat this ritual over and over again.

The Willamette River is one of the few rivers on this continent that flows north. It continues past us here in Lake Oswego, until it merges with the great Columbia River on the edge of Portland, and from there they continue as one to the Pacific Ocean.

I believe the geese and wild ducks that come to the river spend time in the upper reaches of Oswego Lake, in places I’ve yet to explore. And sometimes they paddle around in the little outlet stream that flows from the lake to the river. The geese are supposed to migrate to Canada (they are Canada geese after all).

The Canada goose (Branta canadensis) is the most widespread of its tribe in North America. They are gray brown, with a black head and neck that contrasts sharply with the light-colored breast. People are familiar with these long strings of geese migrating high overhead in a "V" formation. Their musical honking or "barking" often heralds their approach. (From: “A Field Guide to the Birds” by Roger Tory Peterson, the great-grandfather of bird books, first printed in 1934.)

My husband, Peter, was an amateur ornithologist and naturalist. When we were first married in 1945, I tried hard to learn about birds. Although I was very earnest in my efforts, I could never quite get the knack of handling the binoculars.

Being nearsighted and wearing glasses, by the time I’d taken them off and focused the binoculars and looked at the bird (the critical part), the wretched bird was usually gone. Large birds and regular backyard visitors I could handle, but all those little finches and warblers and such were beyond me.

For a while, being eager to join the birding world, I got up at four in the morning on occasion, when Peter and his serious birding pals would go to the woods looking for owls. But the charm of this new experience with nature soon wore thin. Sightings were few and far between and I was either cold or sleepy or both. So I excused myself and withdrew from the early morning forays into the woods. But the big, beautiful, wild, honking geese I could relate to and they’ve always been a favorite.

These geese like it here and the livin’ is easy and some have begun to stay year round. Not everyone is totally thrilled by this turn of events. Geese are very messy, among other drawbacks, leaving huge, gooey droppings all over, including on householders' lawns and gardens. Part of the reason the living is so easy is because people feed them.

Down on my little beach by the river, children are brought along with bags of presumably stale bread to feed the ducks and geese. As soon as someone shows up and stands by the water’s edge with a plastic bag the geese — plus smaller gangs of mallards — come wadding up out of the water and practically swarm the small children throwing bread for them. There’s something immensely satisfying about feeding the ducks. It’s a venerable tradition.

But nevertheless, tame or not, staying or migrating, the geese are wild and their honking calls as they fly in the "V" formation squadrons across the sky can still make me catch my breath in some sort of undefined longing for a half forgotten, distant memory.

Chloe Scott is a member of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.



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