“The geese understand me,” Paddy says unexpectedly one cold, sparkling February afternoon. We are taking a walk through the cemetery across from our house. We come here a lot.
“They do?” I ask, turning on my mental tape recorder. These conversations are too precious to let them go unrecorded.
“Yeah, they do, they can understand me,” he says. “And I can understand them, too.”
“I see,” I say. “And how did you discover that you had this ability?”
“Well, the other day, one of the geese wanted to cross the path in front of me,” Paddy says. “In my head I said, ‘It’s okay. You can go.’ After he crossed, he looked back and smiled.”
“You’re sure he heard you and understood?” I say.
“Oh yeah,” Paddy says. “I talk to him all the time. We’re friends.”
How much running room should a father give a boy who says he can communicate telepathically with a goose? It’s not clear. Some guys would find a way gently to rein him in.
I’m not one of those guys. I have a column to write.
“What else do you talk about with the geese?” I ask, hoping that my little mentalist doesn’t intuit that I’m sketching out a first draft in my mind.
“Just stuff,” he says, shutting me down, shutting the whole thing down. We continue our walk in silence.
I continue in silence, that is. For all I know he’s still talking to the geese.
I had a dog when I was growing up. He and I had a fine relationship. Looking back, I can see he was a bit of a mope. Honestly, I’ve always felt most at home among members of my own species. That’s just how I’m built.
Clara is built differently. She’s almost twelve, so of course she’s planning to become a veterinarian. And why not? Some twelve year-old boy will grow up to play center field for the Yankees; some twelve year-old girl will grow up to become a world-famous country vet.
Let it be our Clara.
All of God’s creatures have a place in the choir. That’s my view.
It’s straight out of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory.”
The danger, of course, is that our affection and respect for the beasts of the field can easily get out of hand. We are tempted to grant them human personalities. We are tempted to affix upon them human emotions.
Animals have their place—but I draw the line at buying them seats on airplanes and pushing them around in baby strollers. “One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons,” says the Catechism.
We visit the cemetery so often it feels like our own private park. Usually it’s just us and a gaggle of Canadian geese. Sometimes we get lucky and a new goose crew comes crashing out of the sky for a splashdown.
If you’ve never seen a squadron of honkers coming in low over a pond, wings akimbo, you need to find a way to check it out. It’s a hoot—one of nature’s treats.
There’s a goose in the cemetery that has a bad wing. The kids call him George. No matter the season, he’s always around. When the rest of his paddling pals pick up sticks and head south, George stays put. Poor George can’t fly.
“Geese are friends with no one,” wrote the essayist and animal lover E.B. White. “But they are companionable once you get used to their ingratitude and their false accusations.”
George seems different. He trails behind us sometimes when we’re walking, almost as if he’s trying to get our attention. I’ve always supposed he’s waiting for us to toss him a bit of bread.
Lately, though, I wonder if maybe he’s trying to tell us something.
From the February 2016 issue of Fairfield County Catholic