“... everything in nature is lyrical in its ideal essence, tragic in its fate, and comic in its existence.”—George Santayana
Canadian Geese were scattered about the running track Tuesday morning—all the way around! Runners and walkers alike stopped to look and wonder what, exactly, had made a goose leave the safety of the waveless body of water on the other side of the fence and plop itself down on a busy running track, its plumpish breast pillowed onto the cement embankment. I had already done my morning run, passing clusters of them and the occasional loner goose at the railing. I decided to race home for the camera. They were still there at the north end where I returned to the running track. As I photographed them a few people stopped.
“Oh, I'm so glad you are taking their picture! Send it to the newspapers!” exclaimed one smiling woman who looked like she might be on her way to work.
Then an older man in a tracksuit paused on his run and stood watching as I photographed. I guessed from the lilting cadence of his speech that he might have been from a Caribbean island. “Dey are many around de track,” he said. I noted some concern in his look and offered reasonable assurance. “I think they have seen the ducks doing this and so have followed their lead.” He thought for a moment. “Or maybe dere is sometink in de watah.” Taking account of their placid demeanor, he added: “But I hope you are right.”
Many runners swept around us and most never batted an eye at the assembled gaggle. Women were more apt to slow down or stop and comment. Men generally just hurtled around the geese having undoubtedly passed the others further back on the track. The geese—six of them at this point on the north end of the reservoir—had settled in an orderly row before the fence as if waiting for a performance across the reservoir at the south end, perhaps a Bill Viola-inspired event of tsunamic proportions in the midst of the water. A carefully coiffed woman, older than me, in stylishly comfortable walking attire, halted and watched me for a few moments. “Have they always done this?” she asked. No, I told her, this was the first time I had seen it. The ducks have been waddling around the track for years, usually in couples and not in such big groups as these geese though. “Really?” she responded, clearly surprised. And then she looked wistful, almost sad. “I always took my morning walk around the bridle path with my dog.” She cast a mournful expression towards the stony swathe below the running track. “He died recently. So, I’ve come up here after all this time.”
My opinion is that the geese had seen a few duck couples make the leap onto the track, decided to see what the fuss was about, and discovered the view. As they are the bigger, bossier fowl on the reservoir, it stood to mind that the geese would make the leap as a gang.
From what I could tell they weren’t causing any trouble. They weren’t smoking cigarettes or pot, nor were they guzzling cheap wine from paper bags, impractical at any rate for a winged creature. No boom boxes were in evidence to shatter a tranquil morning. They weren’t dealing drugs. I expect our mayor would be hard pressed to find a reason to round them up and throw them in jail. Political banners and placards were nowhere to be seen, and besides, their numbers were small enough and could not possibly constitute a protest demonstration. A Patriot Act—hastily rammed through Congress—that mocks our Constitution has not hobbled their honks. Like the geese on the running track we turned our backs, only not from focused runners but from compromised freedoms, which were hustled past us until out of reach.
Geese don’t have to confront the antipathy that a civic-minded, freedom-loving protester meets with during ‘a time of war.’ The only fence was elegant and circling the reservoir for safety reasons, no signs indicating the area to be the designated, so-called, free speech zone. Police Commissioner Kelley would be guaranteed a furious hue and cry from onlookers had he instructed his force to ignore perfectly respectful passive resistance and hurl netting over the geese before rounding them up. Mounted police would only be disappointed when they charged at them anyway because the geese, though they may look sedentary, would create quite a flap and soar over their heads and out of reach of hand…er…wingcuffs. Goose-stepping is an innocent exercise in their web-footed world.
No, studying them in their contemplative state, gazes fixed in the same direction across the reservoir, I expect they were taking in the same fascinating skyline of midtown that I get to see nearly every wonderful day. Their idea of spacious skies, majestic purple mountains, and fruited plains had no relation to patriotic fervor that denies others who might have different religions, skin color, sexual preferences, or political ideas. Among the flock there existed no policy of ‘with us or against us.’ I don’t know if the geese hold the same tolerance for the ducks and cormorants that share the pond with them, although they seem to co-exist. The cormorants, I would guess, could hold their own and just comically slapstick their way out of a bad situation. For the geese the sky is the open road from their homeland in Canada so they can fly south over the mountains and plains and settle in Manhattan for an urban summering.
Chuntering quietly among themselves, they were seemingly unconcerned about conflicting reports twittered from Tehran, that their Canadian embassy in Iran was turning away injured protesters. None of their kind will be spirited from the reservoir undercover and flown to an undisclosed location to be hung by their wings in a foreign cell. Orange jumpsuits will not have to be refitted to their well-padded, feathered bodies. Their bills are lifted to the southern end of the reservoir for the view beyond of mid-Manhattan. They aren’t watching YouTube for the grisly footage of a young woman downed by a sniper at a protest in Tehran. They don’t understand what it means to be the face of such a revolution. The phrase “The revolution will be televised” means nothing to them.
Some of their flock might end up as dinner for the disenfranchised, the homeless, the hungry, especially if the economy continues its downward spiral and drives those unfortunates into Central Park to set up a tent city. It has happened before. Right where the geese are now, the reservoir was once emptied and called “Hooverville.” However, the survivors of the slaughtered goose, unlike the families of the protesters killed in Iran, will not be charged a bullet fee (or arrow fee or stone fee, or whatever fee).
The geese had found this openly protected body of water, scrupulously maintained by genial employees of the Central Park Conservancy. Kitted out in denim shirts and cargo shorts they guarantee against a growing mountain of plastic rising up from the bottom of the reservoir, taking 700 years to decompose or ending up in the stomach of an unsuspecting water fowl.
Black-faced parents of a cherished gosling would not have to worry about anything other than natural catastrophes, or perhaps the errant human child with a stone to throw. Their babies, hopefully, would never feel the taser of a steroidal trigger-happy cop because they just happened to be where they were, when they were. They won’t ever be wrongly accused when there is no evidence to convict and much to overturn a conviction. Their beautiful black faces won’t ever face a human death chamber.
Health care is not only not a crisis in their avian world they don’t even know what health care is. They take care of their own.
When others fuck up—humans who are bigger and richer—who wear expensive suits to their offices in banks and insurance companies and rob the citizenry blind, a goose might crane an elegant neck, tilt its well-formed head and blink: “What’s a suit?”
The water is calm under an overcast sky. Mesmerized by the skyline an introspective goose might wonder why he or she had never thought before now to take this position along the banks of the reservoir. Not a moment would be wasted thinking about why the government spent some eight trillion dollars to bail out the banks and insurance companies, money that could have provided adequate health insurance coverage for every man, woman and child in the United States. A debt that will fall squarely on the already rounded shoulders of the citizenry
Simplistic, you say? Well, aren’t I a silly goose.