Last night I stopped by my grandparents home. I own it now, they passed decades ago now. I lived there for a great while, then married so stay there only sometimes. The home is a monument to their values; sturdy, simple, not a wall out of plumb, and the gutters are stainless steel.
Outside in the cold crisp New Years Eve night I could hear geese. I looked up into the stars and could just make out of a flock of perhaps 500 in a long V shape making their way across the sky, the white belly of the Canada goose picking up ambient light from some source.
Suddenly in my mind it was 40 years ago in October. Gramps and I sat in a duck blind on a lake nestled in the wheat fields south-west of Spokane. A pair of geese appeared over the ridge and made their way to our decoys gently bobbing in the light wind..
“Dont shoot yet Pete”, Gramps said. “Let me get some 2 shot into my gun.” I didn’t have any of that heavy shell. I was 14 and still had the boyhood single shot 20 gauge I had been given at age 12. My shells were better used for smaller birds.
He fumbled a bit, dropping shells and making a lot of noise, swearing some and finally looked up, his 12 gauge loaded and ready. The geese had landed in the water and paddled right near us. “Jesus Pete why didn’t you shoot?” I was waiting for him.
We made a plan about how to stand up and shoot; “1, 2, 3 GO!” Standing to Gramps right I shot at the bird on the right, he the one on the left. He pumped three shells at his bird and it got clean away. Mine tried to lift off, but apparently my single shot was lucky, the goose dropped dead into the water.
We took the boat out to retrieve the bird.
A while later a single goose appeared back over the ridge. “Here comes another one” I said. “That’s not another one Pete”, Gramps said. “That’s this ones mate. They sometimes come back looking for the other we shot. ” Then he looked at me and said, “Geese mate for life”.
In that moment I came to understand the devastation I had caused. I came to grasp my power, and at the same time understood the wisdom that cames with this experience. Any single act on my part can irretrievably ruin a life. Any predisposition I may have had to arrogance was extinguished that morning in a duck blind, doing what my family had done for generations, which was teaching the next something as fundamental and complex as Right and Wrong.
We took home our fowl and my grandmother cooked it for our dinner there in the house they built during the war to complete this portion of manhood training: We are part of the earth. The earth feeds us, we respect it, and when we take part of it for sustenance we do so not just for food to keep our bodies operating, but mindful of what it means to take from the earth, it feeds our souls.
The lessons of generations sank in: Do not take lightly. You may not like the results if you do. Have a care, and remember geese mate for life.