As I have written in recent posts about my Urban Wildlife Painting Series (deer and skunk), I have felt a special connection to my animal subjects because of my observations of them while delivering newspapers in the early hours of the morning. I have a special connection to Canada Geese as well, but for a different reason.
In the summer of 1995, a pipeline rupture filled the Tuscarawas River with oil near my home at the time in Bolivar, OH. The natural habitat for the creatures along the river was destroyed, and many animals were harmed. I heard a call for volunteers to help rescue the animals on the local news, so I jumped into action.
There were a few ducks and some domestic and hybrid geese brought in with oil on them, but most of the rescued animals were Canada Geese. There was a beaver and a muskrat and a few snakes and turtles, as well. Sadly, none of the herons brought in survived. Their systems were too fragile to overcome the physical and emotional stress caused by the oil.
My job as a volunteer was not a particularly glamorous one. I mostly prepared and cleaned the pens where the geese were kept. I learned quickly the meaning of “hissy fit” and “wild goose chase” (I often was the one being chased). Trust me when I tell you that cleaning newspapers fouled by goose poop is no fun chore. I was glad to do it though. I felt so sad for these birds who were harmed by mankind’s excess and recklessness.
I also had an opportunity to administer Pedialyte to a few birds (helps to restore their electrolytes) and I helped wash a couple of birds. Yes, they really do use Dawn Dishwashing Liquid for this process. Administering Pedialyte requires forcing a tube into the beak and down the throat of the bird.
So you could say that I have been about as up close and personal as you can get to a Canada Goose.
The process of cleaning and rehabbing the birds took about a week from the date of capture by rangers to the date of release. It was very hard on them. The stress of being oiled, the physical damage to their systems and the stress of captivity was rigorous for these natural creatures. Despite our best efforts, some perished during the rescue process, especially the youngest goslings. But many survived, and their resilience was astounding.
My experience with these geese during their most vulnerable moments left a deep impression on me. They are proud birds, prancing about with their heads held high in a fanciful manner regardless of their circumstances. They have wills as strong as iron. They are comical in a way, yet tenacious and strong. They hiss and snarl at you, yet they are not violent, and they cause you no harm.
They are amazing creatures.
The goose population in urban areas is growing, and many people see them as pests. They sometimes hold up traffic as they march single file across roadways, and goose droppings can create a mess on sidewalks, parking lots and walking paths. But honestly, we are causing them more disruption than they are to us. And they put up with us.
On my last day as a wildlife rescue volunteer, I was allowed to view the release of a large group of Canada Geese back to the wild (Hybrids and domestic geese were released to farms with ponds as they cannot be released back to the wild.) One by one, the rangers lined up the special carriers, each containing a goose, along the newly cleaned riverbed. They opened the carriers all at once, and the birds started marching out. A few seconds passed as they marched forward, then, all at the same time, they took flight and sailed above the water with grace and command.
And we all bawled our eyes out, watching them regain their freedom after they had endured such an ordeal.
I do not believe that I have ever in my life experienced a moment like that before, and I doubt I ever will again.
As the title indicates, there was a cat in this story too.
One day when I arrived for my volunteer shift to look after the geese, I saw a pet carrier near the wildlife area of the building that housed the rescue efforts. Inside the carrier was a small tortoise shell cat with gold eyes staring out, purring and looking for attention. Of course, I could not resist giving her the attention she desired.
The rangers said that it had taken them 2 days to catch her as she romped along the oily riverbed. They did not want to leave her, because she appeared to have oil on her, but as it turned out, it was not oil, just the dark markings of her tortoise shell coat.
As I have done with my other posts about the Urban Wildlife Painting Series, I have chosen a musical selection to augment the story behind the painting. I often think of that moment when the geese took flight when I hear Michael Hedges’ “Aerial Boundaries”. It reminds me that obstacles and limitations can be overcome, when you consider that the sky has no boundaries.
View the entire Urban Wildlife Series in an exhibit at the Johnson Center at Malone University from October 28 – December 7, 2019.
Life is an Adventure!