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Kunin: Flying South

The Canada Geese settle down in the shallow waters of Lake Champlain in front of our house. They hold their conversations early in the morning and late into the night. At first, they would keep me awake longer than I had intended, and their chatter would bring me back into this world too early in the morning.

Honking is not exactly the right word to describe their sounds. I detect several pitches, some high, some low. Sometimes they sound pleading, other times, they are assertive and once in a while I think they are laughing. Their volume varies; they sound more excited at some times than others. Or is the volume determined by the size of the chorus? They do seem to be having a conversation between groups. I cannot help but wonder what they are saying. At times they sound scolding. Or maybe they’re gossiping. Who should lead the flight pattern today, where’s the best place to eat, or possibly even, who is dating whom. Do they tell one another when it’s time to move on to a new spot, or do they communicate with body language by a simple shrug of a wing?

And how do they know who to follow? Sometimes they rise in beautiful V formation, other times they take to the air in total confusion. There are often stragglers. Did they not get the message in time, or are they out of shape, either too young or too old to keep up? Their sense of direction seems to be confused; sometimes they head south as I thought they should, but then they make a wide U turn and head back north. I hope their GPS system, no doubt better than ours, will eventually get them there. They don’t seem to be in a hurry. Maybe they like the territory in front of my bedroom window because it’s a good feeding ground and they are sensibly fattening themselves for the longer journey ahead. Poor things, they are often called a nuisance because their droppings can be unpleasant when they spatter a surface. Some people go to great lengths to keep them away.

I think they’re elegant with their long necks, white markings, and wide wing span. This morning they surprised me by their large numbers; hundreds of them in four of five formations stretching far down along the shore. A half hour later, they were gone. I missed the moment of their departure. In the middle of the day, when I hear their call, it signals me to look skyward. There they are, flying overhead. I hope they will all catch up to each other and end up flying in the same direction, but not too soon.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont, and author of "The New Feminist Agenda, Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Family," published by Chelsea Green.
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