Thursday, June 17, 2021

Goose Sympathy

I don't hate animals, but I'm not quite sure, as an adult, if I really like them. I admit this freely, even though I realize it's considered more socially acceptable to say "I don't like children" or "I don't like old people" than to say you don't like animals. 

I used to like them much more when I was a child, but that was when I had parents who did all the actual feeding, cleaning, and vet visits and my only job was to play with our pets. Outdoor wildlife was something mostly to observe from a distance or depicted in Walt Disney movies.

As an adult, I seem to be more of a person who likes animals in theory: I think they should live and be safe and hope they don't inconvenience me during my day.

In any case, because I realize I'm sort of iffy on the topic, I felt somewhat unqualified to judge something I witnessed last week involving some local geese.

I live in the Pacific Northwest where they go heavy on wildlife protections, keeping the people areas so wild animal friendly that residents must alter their activities from time to time to avoid ending up a scary story.

Case in point: three years ago there was a news story about a local suburban elementary school where A BLACK BEAR had climbed a tree next to the school. The children were delighted, the teachers took them outside for this wonderful learning experience, and professionals were consulted to advise about how to redirect the bear in the most nontraumatic manner possible. Every local news station framed the story to focus on the needs of the bear as if he was a confused visitor from out of town instead of a wild animal capable of disembowling a grown man with one swipe of his meaty claws. I kid you not, if I had been there and the bear had swiped at me and whacked off my leg, people would have said "Well Amie shouldn't have been bothering that bear."

Anyway, in Washington state people like animals and seem to want them as close as possible. We have city parks that may have coyotes, forests that may have bears, deer, and cougars, parking lots that may have raccoons waddling around and even areas with bat-filled caves, complete with guano and potential rabies.

Last week I was taking an Uber home and the driver was a tough looking lady who spent most of the trip voicing one long continuous rant about various people and things that were bugging her. I didn't need to participate much, just a regular "Ah" or "mm" seemed to be all that was required. Then, when we were only a few blocks from my home, we saw the geese.

We were on a fairly busy city street, bordered on each side by forest area. At some point the city had posted a "geese crossing" sign on each side of this street. There were no geese crosswalks, only the suggestion to drivers: just so you know, there could be geese. 

The driver and I both saw the geese at about the same time, when they were about ten feet in front of the car. There were three of them, lying dead in the road, one off to the left side, two off to the right, all three appearing to have been hit and thrown by a vehicle.

This is one of the downsides to living close to wildlife: sometimes you see them smooshed on the road. It's never pleasant, it's always sad, but it's inevitable. 

My driver and I had very different reactions and I found hers to be confusing.

First, she yelled JE. SUS. CHRIST. The specific way a person would do if they were mad and using Jesus' name as a curse word: JE. SUS. CHRIST. And then she took her right hand and made the sign of the cross: head, heart, left, right, as if now she meant Jesus as the person to pray to and not as a curse word. I wondered if she was trying to really quickly cover her curse, hoping God wouldn't notice. 

"What is WRONG with people?!" she said, and her voice contained tears. "How could someone DO this?!"

This confused me. It sounded like a trick question. In my mind, I had dozens of answers: because a car was traveling on the street, because geese don't understand cars, because maybe the driver didn't see the geese until they were rolling over them, because maybe the driver DID see them but had a car behind them and couldn't risk causing an accident by braking suddenly: because it was not a child, it was an animal.

Instead, I said: "I'm sure they didn't do it on purpose."

"But he TOOK OUT a whole FAMILY!" wailed my tough looking lady driver. 

That confused me three ways: now we had mafia slang being tossed around (as if these geese had turned state's witness and Tony Soprano had ordered them to be whacked to prevent them from testifying), the goose smoosher was automatically a guy, and she was assuming three adult geese together must be related and in family form.

(Even at that moment of her dead goose outrage, I was already thinking: I need to remember these details. This will be good for my blog.)

I said no more. She calmed herself gradually and a few minutes later I was home.

I wondered though, if my lack of goose sympathy (at least in comparison to hers) was because I'm iffy on animals or because I just value people more. It seemed like real animal lovers would do something more to prevent goose smooshing than just posting a sign the geese cannot read, but who was I to say? And was she cursing or just speaking to Jesus in a time of sadness? Maybe she thought if you say Jesus' name that way, He really pays attention. Maybe none of us can read the signs and we're just trying to avoid being smooshed in the road.

Amie Ryan is the author of 4 essay collections and the Marilyn Monroe biography, Marilyn: Loved By You. To learn more, please visit

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