Thursday, 1 May 2014

Birds, battles and births

The goose came in March, and built a nest under the bench on the deck of my houseboat. She plucked lavender and heather from the flower pots, and the softest down from her breast. This is what it really means to feather one's nest. She laid seven eggs in all, but six remain. One was attacked - I think by a magpie - when she was away from the nest, and she quickly disposed of the broken shell.

I was afraid that she would chase me away every time I went outside - the bench is my favourite place to sit and reflect, and geese are ferociously protective of their nests - but she has been a gracious guest. I sit on a chair a few feet away, and I watch as she fluffs out her feathers and settles down to brood. Sometimes she feeds from my hand. I feel a sense of kinship with her, and find myself meditating on my own experience of mothering. When I feel stressed and alone, I envy those chicks coming to be in that scented nest beneath her breast. As she sits, her mate patrols the surrounding river to protect her. But the broody sentimentality of this maternal kinship is only part of the story.

Every day, a pair of swans repeatedly chases the goose off her nest, and a violent battle ensues. The swans are larger and more powerful, and sometimes they drive the geese far up the river, to return to the nest only when the swans have gone. But the geese fight back bravely, and the swans do not always win.

This morning the swans came, as they always do, and chased the mother away. I went to check the eggs in her absence, and saw that a miracle was beginning. The eggs were hatching. Perhaps this is why that father goose was so ferocious today, so determined not to give up. 

As this mighty and terrifying battle raged, a shell cracked and shivered, and a fragile cheeping emerged from within, barely audible over the pouring rain. Life is beginning again ...

... and then the mother came back and I left her alone with her hatching chicks.

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