“In the heart of the city
I have heard the wild geese
crying on the pathways
that lie over a vanished forest.”
The days of winter can be long and gray and bleak.
There is that after-Christmas letdown. The slightly fidgety apprehensions of a new year with its new expectations.
Driving the country roads between the small town in which I live and the next small town and the next until I reach the big city, I am sometimes enveloped in the bleakness of winter. As far as I can see are barren fields and a cold, gray sky. The ditches alongside the road are filled with muddy water from the latest rain; the trees lay bare, the branches stark against the horizon. And then…
Arising above the rice fields, I see something. Sense it more than actually see it. And then…There it is. A tremendous cloud lifting into the air, a billowing of unity and precision. The cloud rises higher and higher until it hovers above the fields before forming into a perfect V formation.
The Snow Geese and the Canada Geese—they fly in those peculiar wedged patterns that make us wonder, that fill us with awe. Scientists seem to have the answer for the V formation. They say that it conserves the bird’s energy.
Each bird flies slightly above the bird in front of him, resulting in a reduction of wind resistance. The birds take turns being in the front, falling back when they get tired. In this way, they can fly for a long time before they must stop for rest. The geese behind honk to encourage those up front to keep up their energy and their speed.
Those less scientifically inclined call this sense of unity Synergy. The geese share a common direction and a sense of community, and they can get where they are going quicker and more efficiently when they travel on the thrust of one another.
When a goose gets sick or is wounded and falls by gunshot, two geese will fall out of formation and follow him down to help and protect him. They stay until he is either able to fly or until he is dead.
There is a lesson to be learned there.
These Texas wetlands were at one time one of the country’s largest wintering areas for snow geese. Urbanization has changed all that. Instead of wild geese, modern development has given our skies the dust of construction and the spires of gated neighborhood entries. In the loss of wildness, we have inherited concrete boulevards and Walgreen’s, spec homes and McDonald’s.
Sometimes, I will walk out onto the deck behind my country house, and I will hear them. At first, it is but a faint squawking that, moment by moment, grows louder and louder into a cacophonous discourse that gives notice of a world that takes place far above our own. There is, I have to realize, literally a universe above us. That universe has its own rules, its own society, its own sense of synergy.
In the bleakness of winter, the geese offer to me a sense of reassurance and of hope. Watching them, I am encouraged to keep moving forward, knowing that another moist rice field—with all its abundance—is waiting ahead.
In those moments, the mundane world gives way to the miraculous, and everyday encounters take on a particular sweetness.
Loren Eiseley knew that the space where wild geese fly over the vanished forest is man’s sacred center. “In moments of sanity he must still seek refuge there.”
In the white birds flying above me, I, too, seek refuge.