Of Geese and Men

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Written By Barbara O’Brien

Regular readers of my column know that my husband Kevin really loves his animals. The horses, sheep, goats, ducks, cats, and dogs all thrive under his watchful eye and tender care. He calls them by name and they respond eagerly. The horses hope for the apple treats in his pocket, the goats and sheep hope for the pen gate to swing open, the chickens and ducks hope for some kitchen scraps, the cats hope for an early dinner, the Border Collie and the German Shepherd hope for a stick to be tossed, and the Aussie hopes for the magic word: “Sheep.” And they all hope that Kevin can be convinced to turn their hopes into reality.

So it’s no surprise that the latest additions to the farm have fallen for Kevin.

A few months ago we were asked to provide some Canada Geese for a commercial. They had to walk back and forth across a golf course putting green and look as destructive as possible.
I located a breeder in the SE corner of Minnesota. Kevin and I drove down to buy the geese. We pulled into a beautifully kept farm with a century old barn that gleamed in the late afternoon sun. The elderly owner and his son came out to greet us. The geese, over one hundred of them, were in a penned area that spanned two acres and had a big pond in the middle. As soon as they saw the owner many of the geese ran over to him with beaks open and heads bowing up and down. The owner spoke quietly to them and they followed him around. The owner and his son selected two pairs of geese, caught them, and loaded them into the crates in the back of our van.
Everything was done with great gentleness and patience and I was impressed with how tame the geese were. The owner and his son had taken great pains not to stress the birds and they seemed to respond by staying calm and undisturbed.
The geese did well in the commercial. We fenced off the perimeter of the shot and used corn to keep the geese located in one place. Gently, we encouraged them to walk where needed for the shot. Their wings had been clipped shortly after hatching, so they were unable to fly and we did not have to worry about losing them. Hand-raised and bred from a long line of hatchery Canada Geese, they would not have fared very well in the wild.
After the commercial was over Kevin and I took them home to our farm. We turned them into a pen to keep them safe and help them understand that this was their new home. Kevin spoke gently to them as he fed them. “This is a good place,” he told them. “We have corn for you and there is plenty of grass to eat. You can make friends with the ducks…I think you will like it here.”
The four geese were promptly given names by my sons that honored their country of origin: Calgary, Halifax, Montreal, and Nova Scotia. They are impressive creatures with gray backs, long black necks, and thoughtful but sharp dark eyes.
Since I usually do the chicken chores, I was the one who fed them and filled their water. They soon learned to defend themselves from the chickens who tried to steal their corn. The geese always regarded me with suspicion. They eyed me cautiously as they came up to drink and made certain not to get too close to me.
But all that changed one day when Kevin came to help me. They made a bee line to him and stood about only a foot or two away. “Why, hello, geese,” he said in a friendly tone. “How are you ladies and gentleman today?” The lead goose nodded his head up and down and bowed low for a moment and back up again. Kevin mirrored the goose, and then the goose did it again. “Well, hello,” Kevin said again. The other geese also waggled their heads up and down to greet Kevin. He laughed. “Look,” he said to me. “They like me.”
“I don’t know why they should,” I replied, a little put out. “I’m the one who feeds them.” Kevin laughed again. “Maybe you don’t know how to talk to them like I do,” he said teasingly.
After a few days we let them out of the pen so they could walk the farmyard and eat all of the bugs and grass they wanted. They stayed pretty close to the barns and didn’t venture up near the farmhouse.
The next morning Kevin was near the farmhouse working oncanada-geese4152 copy.jpg the tractor when he heard the loud honk of a Canada goose. All four had made their way up from the barn and were standing behind him bowing and waggling their heads. He greeted them, and then tried to shoo them away. But no, they had decided that he was their leader and that was that. Whenever Kevin went outside they would meet him and watch patiently while he completed whatever it was he working on. Even when Kevin walked out to check the fields, the four geese marched happily along behind him.
A few weeks ago I was the photographer on a large fashion shoot. My farm was the location for the shoot. There were models, stylists, hair and makeup people, and a large crew. Our geese, I assumed, would keep their distance from the visitors and commotion, not to mention the six Irish wolfhounds we were using in the shot.
cangeese1633.jpgGuess again. While Kevin helped to set up the lights, the geese were by his side. When any female member of the crew tried to approach them, the geese quickly backed away, feathers ruffled and wings outstretched. But they came right up to Cowboy, our digital tech, when he bent down to snap their picture.
It was then that I remembered that the geese had been raised by quiet gentle men who were careful not to upset them. Their affection for Kevin and preference for men over women made sense to me.
Our Canada Geese still do not think much of me. They will come a lot closer to me now that some time has passed and they recognize me as the giver of things good, corn included. But it is Kevin they adore. As I write this column, I can see the four of them clustered just outside the open window of our farmhouse. They are waiting for Kevin to come out. Every so often the lead goose honks loudly to remind Kevin that his geese are waiting for him.

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