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We Are Gathered Here To Mourn…

It has been 39 years since I last shot a goose. Until now. I shot her as she floated silently on our pond, her head serenely held low as though completely secure in untroubled rest.

As I watched she had drifted ever so slowly along the outer edge of our reed beds, her rising and falling body gently propelled onward by a steady autumn breeze and gently lapping waves. When I purposefully stepped out from the shadows she turned her head almost imperceptibly in my direction as though searching for a reason for me to be where I would not normally tread.

She was the perfect picture of unsurpassed tranquility framed in the fading light of a magnificently clear azure sky. Shoreline trees and shrubs in the near background displayed their mirror images in the shimmering blue water of a sheltered bay below, their trunks pointing both up and downward with equal clarity at the water’s edge.

But, this bucolic landscape of munificent nature was peacefully tranquil only to the untrained eye for this elegantly proud descendant of thousands of generations of natural selection was slowly dying. She had been heartlessly driven from the autumn sky by patrolling hunters, mortally wounded and unfeelingly left to die an agonizing, lingering death as grievous injuries increasingly sapped her visibly receding strength.

Her occasional feeble attempts at raising her painfully crippled wings had repeatedly met with abject struggling failure as she sank further into overwhelming despair with each futile attempt. Binoculars clearly showed her nostrils blowing tiny pink bubbles with each exhaling breath.

I could justify standing by no longer.

I had waited three days for nature to raise its’ healing hand but such was not to be. With a heart heavy beyond the load it was asked to carry I moved the sights of my semiautomatic rifle onto the forefront of her body and pulled the trigger. Not once but eight times. It wasn’t necessary for the kill, but it was necessary for me. I needed absolute assurance that when my rifle was emptied of its shells my work, difficult as it was, had been completed in all finality with no room for anything but the saddest possible kindness. It was deeply felt compassion that raised my gun and undiminished sorrow that lowered it as her feathers relaxed and her body spread lower into the water in a final signal that death had at last overtaken her once indomitable spirit.

She died peacefully without protest or struggle, almost it seemed, by consent. Her head bowed as though to honor her spirit’s release and then quietly slipped beneath the rolling waves. Her life was over. She was, then she was not.

Strangers might say this was just a wild goose, only one of many, some say too many, and that the loss of this one untamed creature was no worse than that of thousands of others that fall prey to the lethal guns of hidden hunters every autumn.

But this goose was special to me. Some years ago we fenced off a tiny slough that slowly grew into a 10-acre pond as water levels rose over time. Beavers blocked spring run off and with the immediate surrounding area secured from incursions by cattle this small area had become a sheltered sanctuary for all manner of nature’s free ranging creatures including nesting ducks, coots and geese.

One pair of Canada geese first cautiously arrived on this pond and then returned each season, this being their fourth. We began to recognize each goose by the vague patterns all people who appreciate wildlife understand. Much as we may believe all members of a species look alike, each with enough observation has some distinguishing feature or mannerism that gives them individual identity. I knew utterly without a doubt which goose this was. The Greater Canada now floating so lifelessly on our pond was unquestionably our very own special summer lady.

The pond shoreline was much too swampy to retrieve her spent body yet somehow this seemed only fitting. Her tomb was best found in the place where she had spent the happiest days of her short life and to see her still bobbing ever so slightly on the incoming waves left a peculiar sense of continuity — that all she had represented in her species during her brief sojourn through life had not, in her final accounting, been done in vain.

For her kind she had left descendants. For me she had bequeathed fond memories, not of death, but of happy days in better times, and this is my treasure alone.

Stan Harder is a retired rancher, contemplator, and writer who lives near St. Brides, Alberta

(Editor’s note: Stan obviously isn’t a hunter, but all views are welcome. This article was first published a number of years ago in Alberta Crops and Beef.)

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