It was the cutest thing I had ever seen. A baby goose—a gosling—nestled in the pocket of a teenager’s shirt.
I had been visiting friends in the town of Penticton, Canada, a beautiful place surrounded by mountains and lakes. Their outdoorsman son had found an abandoned goose egg and brought it home. He kept it warm, and within days, the shell cracked and a fluffy little gosling emerged. For the chick, it was love at first sight. Thinking the boy, Craig, was its mother, the little goose attached itself to him. Outside, Craig carried the gosling everywhere in his shirt pocket. Indoors, it had the run of the house, its webbed feet padding after him wherever he went.
The gosling also accepted the rest of us as fellow geese, showing no reluctance to approach us. I held the tiny creature in my hands, felt its little feet in my palms, the softness of downy feathers, and I was captivated. We enjoyed watching our new baby waddle through the garden, nibbling small flower heads with its tiny beak. When Craig’s sister played her guitar, the gosling positioned itself within inches of the strings, listening intently and watching her hands pluck and strum.
But Craig knew the adorable little bird didn’t belong in a human environment. He had seen a mother goose and her new hatchlings in the area where he had found the egg and felt sure this was the baby’s mother, so he made a plan, hoping she would recognize and accept her own.
Since I had become as attached as he, Craig took me with him. Together we paddled his canoe across the mountain lake, the little bird rustling around in his shirt pocket. When we spotted the mother goose and her brood near the shore, we drifted as close as possible without alarming them, then placed our charge in the water and started paddling away.
The gosling followed us, its paddle-like feet working overtime.
Realizing this wasn’t going to be easy, I plucked it out of the water while Craig maneuvered the canoe back to our original drop point. This time, after setting the little goose back in the water, we each grabbed a paddle and jettisoned away as fast as possible. The gosling followed once again, honking in desperation. I could hear the distress in its little voice. It broke my heart. I could feel tears welling up, the salty drops trickling down my face. I begged Craig to turn around or let it catch up, but he was resolute. And, as it turned out, he was right not to stop.
Finally we had pulled far enough away. Our little bird stopped swimming. It sat in the water, watching us. It must have realized it couldn’t catch up.
Then an amazing thing happened. The mother goose and her brood glided out of the shallows gently honking at the stranger. In response, the gosling turned and swam towards them. After a brief introduction and some nuzzling—perhaps a goose way of checking I.D.—the whole group glided back to the shore, our gosling among them.
I was sad and overjoyed at the same time. I would miss the little Canada goose, but it was with its family, back in the wild where it belonged.
(published as Back to the Wild, in “The Ultimate Bird Lover,” HCI publications 2010)