Metro, Featured Column

Steady as the Geese

It was a Thursday when the swans came back for the season. They had been missing for quite some time, perhaps their last appearance was in late fall. As they floated there, picking at the green scum floating on the water’s surface, it seemed that the time away had done them some good. The white of their feathers glowed a little more than it had the last time that I saw them, and the vivid orange of their beaks looked as if someone had freshly scrubbed them clean.

But looking refreshed was not the only characteristic that these two swans had going for them. They were holding themselves differently than they had all those months ago when the winter temperatures crept in. Instead of huddling toward the middle of the water as they had been prone to do in the earlier months, they bobbed at the water’s edge, staring passersby right in the eye. As one swan grasped a particularly long strand of weed in its beak, it gave its head a little shake, as if to viciously subdue its botanical prey. A new energy and vibrancy seemed to exude from the swans, but maybe that’s just something that happens to most animals when the first signs of spring and warmer weather begin peeking through.

Even though the swans seemed different, an indicator of the change and time that had passed since the fall months, I still couldn’t fight the feeling that almost no time at all had gone by since they last graced the Reservoir with their presence. It seemed like just yesterday that they were paddling in the middle of the Reservoir, and that my breath was beginning to make a cloud of steam in the crisp air.

But now the air was far from crisp—almost unseasonably muggy—and the swans were making quite the buzz among the runners and walkers circling the Reservoir. Many would stop and stare, some pulling out their phone to snap a picture of the two graceful creatures. Some people even leaned in toward the water’s edge, risking the wrath of the swan in order to get a perfectly framed shot.

Fascinated by the reemergence of the swans, people appeared to give the small group of geese paddling around the water little thought. But that wasn’t so unusual an occurrence. You see, the geese pretty much serve as permanent fixtures around the Reservoir. Anyone who visits the area regularly will know the geese quite well, and be able to conjure up an immediate snapshot of the animals’ grey and white feathers and sometimes beady eyes. But unlike the swans, the attention that the geese attract usually isn’t of the positive variety.

You see, the geese are not glamorous like the swans. They look more like ash than like snow, and can be rather touchy at times. I have seen them frighten young children and adults alike—anyone foolish enough to approach them at the wrong time runs the risk of a dramatic wing flap at the best, and a snap of the beak at the worst. And even if the geese are in a relatively sedate mood, many people find the obstacles that they leave behind on the path—obstacles that take the form of numerous bright-green droppings—aggravating to say the least.

Despite their peculiarities, however, I wonder if the geese should be admired instead of considered a nuisance. Because unlike the swans, who randomly come and go but receive attention upon their every appearance, these geese reliably stick it out through the winter. The geese seemingly have habits and traditions that they uphold even when the water freezes over and the Boston sky turns a perpetual shade of grey. And in a time when changeability serves as an exciting marketing strategy, when people receive praise for their ability to change things up

and keep the world on its toes, we might need to recognize the virtue of the geese’s steadiness more than ever.

I consider myself a habit-driven person. I have little rituals and customs that I not only use to start and end each day, but also to get me through the day itself, kind of like a knotted rope that I pull myself along until it is time to go back to sleep. These habits get me from day to day with the semblance that I have some measure of control over an existence that flashes by.

Sometimes I worry that my repetitive nature makes me seem like a broken record, a person unfit to live in today’s world of spontaneity. But then I think of the geese floating just downstream from the swans, and hope that while unpredictably is nice, steadiness has a place in this world as well.

Featured Image by Madeleine D’Angelo / Heights Editor

May 4, 2017