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The Lone Snowie
by Damian Fagan

Constant honking defines the morning commute, but the noise has nothing to do with traffic. Instead, it is the calls of geese lifting off from the Sloughs, the air damp with fog and last night’s frost coating the tamarisk. Various groups ascend from the ponds and join those that are already in flight from the river. Their destinations are the stubble fields, fairways and lawns farther down the valley. Then again, these birds may decide to push farther south to warmer climates.

I do not tire of watching these long-necked birds in flight. Their white chinstraps give the appearance of the birds wearing a dark helmet - safety first. With plumb bodies and strong wings the birds gather together in collective formations that resemble an inverted-V, a chevron, a diagonal line or a wavy checkmark. Their formation is not static, but dynamic as birds shift positions or as others join the flock.

Snow GooseThough rare, there is a goose as white as snow mixed in with these honkers from Canada. Aptly named the “snow goose,” these white geese have black wing tips and an alternate form that is a mottled bluish-gray to brownish color on the body. Not that the birds switch color phases; the forms or morphs stay the same throughout their lives.

But seeing a snow goose is an unexpected pleasure in Moab. Farther south in New Mexico, one can see thousands of these birds along the Rio Grande River, or even good numbers in Colorado. These birds come from the Far North on their migration, but here in the Moab Valley a lone snow goose is cause for celebration.

As I watch this lone goose, I am reminded of a story by Paul Gallico. The Snow Goose is a story of friendship that crosses physical boundaries, but it does not end walking hand-in-hand into the sunset. The story revolves around a lonely hermit who inhabits a lighthouse is brought an injured snow goose by a frightened young girl. She is not afraid of the goose, rather the hunchbacked man with a deformed arm. The man’s gentle demeanor and his love of painting and wild birds calm her fears. Together they heal the goose and form an uncomfortable bond between themselves. The snow goose, after several migrations, returns to stay with the man at the lighthouse. The goose and the man form a bond and the now the girl, who has become a young woman, must struggle with her feelings towards the man.

Unfortunately, war has broken out and the English raise a call for help to save stranded soldiers at Dunkirk. Though the man has only a small sailboat, he is proficient at sailing and leaves his self-imposed exile to sail to Dunkirk. He makes repeated forays to the beach, dodging enemy fire, while the goose circles above calling the soldiers to retreat. The hunchback saves many lives that day, but loses his own to enemy gunfire. As the rescue boats approach his small craft to retrieve his body, the goose stands defiantly on the gunwale and repulses all attempts to board the boat. The boat, riddled with machine-gun fire, sinks.

The goose returns to the lighthouse and the woman intuits the man’s fate; she senses it from the goose’s actions. This is where the story ends and leaves us to ponder the future of both bird and woman.

So with this story in my mind, I too wonder the fate of this lone goose that has taken up with a different clan. Perhaps the bird will find its own kind and leave these “honkers” for the familiar “snowies.” Maybe it has imprinted on the Canada geese and thinks it is one of these geese. I hate to anthropomorphize why and what this snow goose’s fate might be, so I focus on just appreciating the moment and delighting in the appearance of a lone snow goose into the Moab Valley.

Canada Geese

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