My mother has a goose nesting in a planter at the end of her dock. The goose sits on her eggs through rain and sleet and wind. But the other day my mother saw the planter unoccupied for the first time. The goose was swimming in the lake. “She was probably looking for food,” my mother told me on the phone. “But I was worried some animal had gotten to the eggs because the top of the planter was fuzzy through the binoculars. Then I realized they were covered in a layer of down feathers!“ my mother finished triumphantly.
“Did she actually pluck them to make a blanket?” I asked her, filled with wonder. “Or did they fall off naturally?”
“I don’t know. She’s sleeping now,” my mother reported. “I can see her beak tucked into her wing.”
The softness in my mother’s voice was a tone that she reserved for animals or babies. Never for people over a certain age, except maybe family, and those she considers family. Animals and babies turned her into mush however. When she first spotted the goose lying on the planter she called her friend Ann Ghilarducci for advice. Ann is the mother of one of my best childhood friends, and happens to be my favorite mother from the neighborhood because she is a horse person, and understood me.
“Don’t go down there Wendy,” Ann warned my mother. “That goose will attack first and ask questions later.”
I could relate. I wanted to attack someone who hurt my young recently, coil my neck like a mother goose and strike hard. Come at him wings flapping. But as humans we must distinguish emotional danger from physical danger, however blurred those lines become. Our brains can process thoughts before reactions, an evolution from our animal ancestors, when threats send blood pooling to our organs in preparation to fight. My hardware seems stronger than my software most of the time though, and it’s a constant battle for me to resist that physical response. So I study and practice and exercise discipline, yet still I may not succeed. Because revenge satisfies blood lust and I was a warrior before a scholar.
“I’m tempted to take some bread down for her,” my mother continued through the phone. “But then the crows and eagles will come around and might find the eggs. So I’m forcing myself not to get involved.”
“It’s hard to watch without interfering,” I replied in agreement. Life is filled with hazards beyond our control, and we must accept our role as witnesses sometimes. No matter how much we want to influence the outcome.
“I asked Ann how the chicks will get out of the pot once they’re hatched,” my mother went on, “and she said they just tumble out, right into the water! Isn’t that amazing?”
“Yes,” I said, thinking about my own chicks, tumbling now into the water of their lives.