Tony Vagneur: A flock of fables

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

So enticing it must be to the eye of a bird from high above, a flat expanse of wide-open, lush, green grass, brilliant with the newness of spring, and a gentle, soft-flowing creek nearby. Irrigation ditches line the pasture here and there, providing land boundaries of a sort, overflowing with cool, invigorating snowmelt.

With the right frame of mind, it’s a wonderland as we approach, the grays, blacks and white of the Canada geese brilliant against the verdant backdrop in which they stand. Eight of them, hobbling through the grass, casting apprehensive glances our way as we quietly walk by. Shuffling off, moving away from us to one side, they judge us as a tolerable intrusion, even with the presence of my dog, and continue their feast of grass.

Geese always remind me of my grandfather who, on one fall day as we rode horseback along the river bottom, remarked that the honking of overhead geese signaled the coming return of winter. That was my introduction to geese. Since then, of course, their habits have changed and some Canada geese choose to live here year-round; the honking of geese overhead doesn’t mean much more to me than there are geese overhead, moving to a new hang-out.

The next day, as my dog Tux and I went about our irrigation rounds, and for the next five or six days, there was only one goose in the early morning horse pasture. Imaginations flit about, knowing that geese generally mate for life and that they are caring birds. What can it mean, a lone goose, once part of a gaggle of eight, sitting forlornly in the middle of the green area?

Objectively, it might mean that the lone bird was not part of the original eight, and was a bachelor moving in. Which, naturally, doesn’t make sense, as geese tend to travel together, not only for the camaraderie, but for protection from predators.

Never leaning toward objectivity, my supposition was that the eight from the day before had taken flight and somewhere along the way, this lone bird had lost his mate. The sex of the survivor could not be determined, but the haughty and arrogant strut of its walk through the grass made him a male in my mind. And gave the definite impression that he fully intended to be where he was.

Perhaps he was waiting for his mate to return to the last spot where they had been totally aware of each other. This goose appeared willing to wait for however many days for the return of his dyadic partner. What tragedy befell her on their hunt for another grazing spot? Was it a poacher’s gun, leaving her blood-splattered body floating down the river? Or perhaps she got tangled in wire along the side of a pond and drowned. Whatever it was, it had to be tragedy. How long will this gander mill and mope about the field, glancing skyward for his lifelong mate?

An omen, it might have been an omen, but of what? My mother’s Irish blood tells me that superstition should always be considered in perplexing situations, and somewhere in the back of my mind rides the recognition that all is not always as it seems.

Memories of goose tales from years gone by flash through my mind, some you know from childhood, and there’s also the little green hardback that rested on the music stand of a friend’s piano, picked up in a used bookstore. Many tales in that book, ones I thought strange at first, but then a parable about a misshapen man, a girl and a goose caught my attention, now forever lost to where old memories go.

My search to find it online led me to a different tale, “The Snow Goose”, a fascinating story of, you guessed it — a hunchbacked man, a girl and a goose. Ostensibly about the goose, it is written from an ancient formula, a story of masked beauty hidden behind ugly and the blossoming of young love. The goose is the catalyst, from whose black-tipped, white pinions the rest of the story hangs. Love, death, heroism, tragedy, all in a few pages.

And the other day, the lone goose in the horse pasture, now clearly a male by the difference in size, had a companion, a younger-looking female, and the attraction seemed to be new as evidenced by the muffled honking and other noises between them.

Each day we see them, my dog and I, and they look askance as we walk by, leisurely trundling off to one side, giving us free passage. Then, like big, rumbling aircraft, they slowly take off, gaining ever more height as they circle around before dropping down to buzz us, a gesture only a goose can understand. If we are not friends, and maybe we are, at least we’re tolerable, I guess.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at