Monday, April 19, 2010

On Goose Music

© 2010 Joshua Stark

The famous chapter in Aldo Leopold's "A Sand County Almanac" on Goose Music always moves me, in particular because I grew up right smack in the middle of a major landing place for waterfowl in the Pacific Flyway, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (for a great excerpt, check this out).  
The photo I've added above, for example, was taken in East Isleton, at the end of the street where I grew up, about 100 yards from where my parents still reside.  Those are snow geese coming down in a neighboring field. 

Nearly every Winter of my life I've lived with calls from overhead.  I remember laying in bed at home in the middle of the night, hearing swans call to each other as they passed over town in the fog, flying so close that, with the window cracked a bit, I could hear their rhythmic breathing.  I remember hearing the amazing, trumpeting calls of sandhill cranes, only a few when I was a boy, but more and more each year so that now we watch huge, swirling flocks come down in August and September.  And I remember geese.

It seems that everybody has a neighborhood gaggle of honkers nowdays, and as Tovar Cerulli recently pointed out, there is at times something strange about the ease with which they can interact with our world. We have a flock passing over many mornings and evenings, and their calls still stir me, even if I know they are flying out to and back from their golf-course feeding grounds (no better use for a golf course, anyway).  But I grew up close to wild geese, and I was blessed with the widest variety of big waterfowl around.  Honkers of all sizes, swans, cranes, snows, blues.  And specks.

Ever since I watched, from my elementary school playground, a big flock of specks take flight in 20 mph winds, and, buffeted, swing right overhead, I've been amazed by them.  Their call is distinctive, too, often a higher pitched, two-note number, and it means that Fall fell, and Winter is here.  Or, it means that Spring has sprung fully, and it's time for them to head up North to have babies, so they can come back home, here on the Delta.

Night before last, in my back yard, while I was putting the ducks to bed (I have three yard ducks), I heard a flock of specks passing over.  As it was night, and mid-April, I knew they wouldn't be back for a few months.  And although the arrival of Spring brings its own greatness, there is always a hollow in my heart, an empty space to be filled only with that two-note cry, now wending its way on North.


Phillip said...

Hey Josh, maybe we've bounced Leopold's name around before, but he's one of my favorites and pretty influential in my view of outdoors writing and literature.

Anyway, there is something magical about goose music. As a child, I listened to my grandfather and even my dad talk about the days when geese would pour down the coast and along the Cape Fear River before populations dove and then then they started short-stopping along the Chesapeake Bay. Geese were a waterfowling dream for me then, and coming out to CA was like an answer to that dream.

I don't really hunt waterfowl with the manic intensity I once had, but I still have to catch my breath when the big birds are trading back and forth... which seems almost a perpetual occurrence in this state.

Josh said...

We really are blessed here with birds, and the writings of Leopold.

Thanks for stopping in, Phillip.

Tovar Cerulli said...

Wonderful post, Josh! And thanks for the mention.

Josh said...

Tovar - your stuff is good, and worth linking. Thanks for stopping by.