Geese and the Mysteries of Migration

An abandoned dairy near my house has become a rest stop for migrating birds–mostly Canada geese–and I can’t help slowing my car on mornings after I’ve dropped my daughter at school to gaze out into the field and watch the birds. Last week, I did a double-take when I noticed white mounds scattered amid the flock of black and gray bodies milling about.

Mystery Geese

What I had assumed were discarded white trash bags were actually another type of geese. Seven whitish birds roamed within the larger Canada Goose flock. These seven weren’t entirely white; they had grayish heads and stripes of black along the underside of their tails.

My first thought was that these partial whites must be hybrids.

Maybe a lusty Canada Goose had mated with a domestic white goose. The poor flightless white, unable to go with her airborne mate, not only lost her love but her flying children, too! The heartbroken mother was left only with those heaviest of her feathered children, who lacked the genetic cocktail required for flight. Would her flighted children return? Would she know them if they did?

This past week, my father returned to New York State to attend his mother’s funeral. He hasn’t lived there since he was a kid and rarely visits. When I think about my father at seventeen leaving his family in upstate New York to make a life for himself in Alaska, I wonder what compelled him to walk away, when his two brothers remained behind. 

Like both my parents, I abandoned my home and family to make my life in a new place. I don’t know why I left, really, but my brother did the same. Were we blindly following instinct? A genetic desire to migrate? 

At the funeral back in New York, I was told that my dad shook his own brother’s hand, but didn’t recognize him.

Many people grow up and live and die within the same twenty-mile radius. To me, there is something comforting and Norman Rockwell-esque about this idea: The good life of domestic geese who know and love the pond–their community for multiple generations–so intimately.

I drove home and did a bit of research after romanticizing the “Story of the White Geese” at the abandoned diary. Apparently, I’ve been living under a rock because the species of geese called the Snow Goose closely resemble the white birds I saw mixed in with the Canada Geese. Further, small groups of Snow Geese have been known to migrate with larger Canada Geese flocks.

Not that it’s unheard of for a wild goose to mate with a domestic goose, but likely, the white geese aren’t the spawn of an illegitimate goose affair. They’re probably just friends vacationing with friends. Clearly, my understanding of the goose world is limited. My observations reveal, like a Rorschach image, more about myself than actual goose life.

During the time my father was back east, my mom came and stayed at my house. I’m always happy to host my parents. I think I feel guilty for having left them–even though that’s ridiculous–and when they visit, despite our differences, I can’t help feeling absolved.

My mom brought one of my old Nancy Drew mysteries with her–The Moonstone Castle Mystery. I haven’t read a Nancy Drew book since I was in elementary school. The experience of reading it aloud with my mom and daughter was similar to meeting a friend you knew as a kid after you’ve both grown up. Everything’s the same, but also totally different.


In the land of Ms. Drew, EVERYONE “has a twinkle” in his or her eye. The young sleuth sets off with her friends on an adventure in a new place where she meets new people and has harrowing, exciting experiences. Her boyfriend drives out to visit her. She enjoys commenting on what she ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Everyone loves her, especially her adoring father who entrusts her with critical detective work pertaining to his job as a lawyer.

The fictional aspects of these works are self-evident, yet my mom, daughter and I all enjoyed reading and solving, along with Nancy and her friends, the mystery that resulted in an adopted girl being reunited with her long, lost grandparents.

Even in a 1960s kid’s mystery, this idea of being separated from family–from your people–then reunited, is compelling. We long for these connections.

I long for connection, but at the same time, like Nancy Drew, I am eager to learn new things, to travel around and find mysteries to solve.

Each year as I watch the geese collect and disperse in the field by my house, I can’t help but think about what has brought me to the place I live and how long I will stay. More often these days, I wonder less about my own leaving and more about my daughter’s. I don’t know if I’d rather her fly or stay here, with me for always, near the pond we call home.

13 thoughts on “Geese and the Mysteries of Migration

  1. I love hearing about ducks and geese- they have the most hilarious social structure and are fun to watch. Glad to find someone with a similar fascination! 🙂

    • Hi Carrie. Yes, birds in general are fascinating. I’m not a “birder” or anything, but I’ve found myself captured by (and writing about) bird behaviors frequently this past year. It’s cliche to say, but I learn a ton from nature about myself.

    • Thanks, Steve! How weird for you to comment because just last night I dreamed we were working together in a remote fishing village in Alaska. There was some big incident and we were doing crisis communication. It was very movie-esque.

  2. Hi there – I love this piece – geese and Nancy Drew novels! What a combo:) Kinda ironic because I just took out my Nancy Drew books from when I was a kid – hardcovers, believe it or not:) I live in an area full of geese and herons and egrets – i always ponder where they are going…. and why some stay behind….. Though I know it is usually the ones that stay behind who are the ones that inherently know they cannot make the trip – i still think of other things.

    By the way, thank you for remembering me – I received your comment yesterday. You are right – it is coming upon a year – the 19th and I am having lots of crying fits. I try to remember the good ‘stuff’, but when I look at the desk next to me or my dog or my kids, even, I still break inside. I will get through it. Thank you for your kind thoughts. They mean a lot. Kimberly

    BTW – I nominated you for a Very Inspiring Award – not certain if you got my note – (I cannot ping back for the life of me) Here is the link to my blog – hopefully it will LINK!

    • Thank you for the awesome comment and the nomination, Kimberly! I’ve got a few nominations I need to respond to…I’m so uncomfortable with awards for some reason and find myself putting off accepting them…I know that’s terrible and makes me seem hideously ungrateful. I will try to do better…

      Per the birds, it never really occurred to me that the ones who stay behind know they can’t make the trip. I wonder if that’s true of people, too? If we CAN make the trip, does that mean we SHOULD? Thanks for all your wonderful thoughts and perspectives!!!

  3. Baby, we have so much more in common than I’d ever have guessed, when we met. You may be younger, and edgier, but we both have some deeper, broodier stuff that we share. It seems to be your week for awards. I’ve just sent the Liebster your way. Mixed feelings about these things, but no mixed feelings about you… So check out my current post and you’ll see what to do.

    • DAAAAAAWWWN!! First, I am neither young, nor edgy, but I LOVE that you think of me that way. And second, I totally agree that we have tons of intersections and really am hoping we can connect in the real soon. I know we are both scary busy with our families and writing and traveling, but maybe just a day or two… Thank you for the award nomination. I have mixed feelings about them, too. We should chat about that via email. I gotta go work out right now, but thank you SO much for being an inspiring fellow blogger and writer.

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