By Angela

Goose Necks and Short Cuts

Farm life was so much more exciting than city life. My mother had instilled in us a love for animals. While living in the cit, this took the form of having a pet dog, taking in a pregnant cat, feeding mashed up worms to baby birds that had fallen out of their nests. On the farm, we actually got to acquire and learn about even more about all different kinds of animals. Through some of these very interesting experiences we had with animals, I also credit my mother for teaching us about creative problem-solving and healing. One of the most memorable experiences was acquiring a pair of geese.

The time of year was late spring. One of the exciting things about living on the farm was growing some of our own food. We had fun leafing through the seed catalogs, salivating over the juicy ears of corn, plump peas and sweet strawberries. One of our favorite desserts that Aunt Betty made, my great aunt who lived with us, was a strawberry shortcake. Nothing elaborate, just a Bisquick shortcake, sliced strawberries with sugar added, topped with a tower of whipped cream.

Imagine our dismay the first year we planted strawberries and harvested only a handful of measly strawberries. To top it off, weeding the strawberry patch was almost impossible to keep up. The strawberry plants would send off numerous runners which turned into more producing plants, which meant more strawberries and that was a good thing.

But nobody tells you how your perfect rows of strawberry plants soon become a big patch of strawberry plants which provides a perfect environment for grass and weeds to grow out of control. So weeding the strawberry patch became a back-breaking chore.

My mom was great about clipping out articles about lots of interesting tidbits of information. She found one article about the use of geese to weed strawberry patches. It seems that most grasses top their list of favorite foods, while broad-leafed plants, such as strawberries, are very unpalatable to them. This article cited the many advantages of using geese as weeders:

1) less use of herbicides to contaminate our environment,
2) they step lightly and thus do not compact the soil,
3) they work for nothing 7 days a week, rain or shine, and
4) if you do not wish to keep them through the winter season, they can be served for a gourmet Thanksgiving or Christmas meal.

I could tell that another animal adventure was in the works. My mother had saved the classified section of Sunday’s newspaper looking for geese. One afternoon after school, my grandma, aunt and sister piled into the car with my mom, all in search of these wonderful “weeder geese” that would save us hours of back-breaking work in the garden.

The farmer picked out a female goose and male gander and put them each into a burlap bag so they would not hurt themselves or us while we transported them to their new home. He instructed my mother on other pertinent information.

1) Carry a broom for protection—geese make good watch dogs and may be inclined to bite or strike a person with their wings until they become more familiar with their new owners. Being hit by a goose was like getting hit with a baseball bat, and could result in broken bones.

2) Lock them up in a pen on the farm for a week so they gain familiarity with us and the farm, thus learning that it was their new home.

3) After a week, turn them loose down on the pond and continue to feed them in the pen.

It took forever for that week to pass. Finally, it was time for the geese to take a swim. We herded them down to the foot of the hill to the pond. Our German Shepherd, Sam, loved to be included in all the action, so he followed, too. Since it was a hot day, the three of them seemed to be enjoying themselves. After seeing that everyone was settled in, my mom went back to the house leaving my sister and I to sit on the water edge watching Sam and the geese.

The gander seemed to be having a great time. He would go under the water, come back up, go under, come back up, and continued to do so for a few minutes. All of a sudden, my sister and I noticed that the gander had gone under the water, but had not surfaced. Neither of us knew how long a goose could stay submerged, but it definitely felt like much too long. My sister kept an eye on everything while I ran up to the house frantically yelling for my mother.

“MOM!!! MOM!!!! HURRY!!!!! THE GANDER’S DROWNING!”

She probably thought I was pulling her leg. Hands on hips, she looked at me with disbelief and said very matter-of-factly, “Geese don’t drown!”

“WELL, HE WENT UNDER THE WATER AND HASN’T COME UP….WHAT DO YOU CALL THAT?” I shouted.

Seeing the panic on my face, she ran down to the pond as fast as she could. Sure enough the goose and Sam were swimming around, but there was no sign of the gander. Showing Mom where we last saw the gander, she jumped into the pond. She managed to find him and dragged him to the edge of the pond.

My mom was quick at problem-solving. Stretching out the gander’s neck, she opened his beak with her finger checking for anything that needed to be cleared from his mouth. Placing two fingers over his nostrils, she proceeded to give him mouth-to-beak resuscitation, followed by chest compressions. Some fluid came out of his mouth, but he was not breathing on his own.

Slinging the gander’s body under one arm and holding his head in the other, my mother ran up the hill to the house. She quickly and gently laid him in the grass, told us to keep an eye on him (not that he was going anywhere), and ran into the house. She emerged with a bottle of whiskey! The mouth-to-beak resuscitation made sense, but I wasn’t sure how the whiskey was supposed to help him. Maybe warm him up a little?

My eyes were riveted on the gander. I held my breath while anxiously waiting for a miracle. All of a sudden, the gander’s eyes flew open! He stood up and took a couple of steps. This was amazing! And then he keeled over and died! I thought for sure my mother’s tenacious attempts to revive him would pay off. But there he lay in the driveway…deader than a doornail!

We focused our attention to going back down to the pond to herd the goose back into the pen. The poor thing….how lonely she would be without her mate! As fate would have it, we were a few minutes too late. We caught a brief glimpse of her as she flew away.

My aunt did make some phone calls to some of our neighbors on surrounding farms, asking if they had seen a “loose goose.” That was the feather in the cap! If they didn’t think it before, they did now. We were certifiably nuts! At least our city farmer naïveté provided many a good belly laughs for the well-established farming families. My sister and I weren’t laughing, though. Guess who was going to have to week that darn strawberry patch!

Lesson 1: Although you may plan for ways to make your life easier, sometimes the Universe has other ideas. And you just have to roll up your sleeves, take a deep breath, and do the work you need to do.

Oh, just in case you’re wondering how the gander drowned, we discovered snapping turtles in the pond years later. According to one of our neighbors, snappers have been known to pull waterfowl under water and drown them.

© Angela Cramer, 2008

Photos are the property of Jupiterimages made available through subscription: © Jupiterimages Corporation, 2008 www.clipart.com


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