North Shore Notes

Road Geese

Harry Drabik

One of the grander and finer excitements of life along the shore is dramatic sight of the spring and fall goose migrations. I willingly confess an increased heartbeat and exhilaration at the first sound of the Canadian Honkers passing overhead. If it is a large V of geese and they are low enough or conditions favorable you can hear the steady pounding beat of wings working in unison as a note below the higher sound of honks used to keep their formation. It is magnificent. The nip in the air during the seasons of passage isn’t the sole thing to make cheeks flush pink with feeling.

As often the case, there is an off side. Places where geese congregate to become messy. Unless you’re a too-clean canine wanting an improved scent in the form of Eau-Du-Canada, greasy goose shit is a thing to be avoided. People who feed geese inspired by a yen for kindness toward animals seem better disposed toward geese and dogs than toward their neighbors. Geese have good appetites and will leave an area grazed near bare. When they are fed they tend to linger and their numbers increase. This artificial situation is really not a kindness to geese though it does aid the soap industry as many more sneakers will need laundering. I think of it as an ill feeling toward geese to lure them into lingering with offers of easy eating until the season is too late and their way south would be near bare what they’d need to sustain the daily routine of migration to warmer waters. It is kinder to not be killingly kind to poor dumb animals, but as we know human dumbness surpasses that of animals in many respects because we are so much higher and finer on the scale of things, including stupid actions. Search as you will, you’ll never find a fanatical gazelle wander among herds looking for a chance to blow itself up in a suicide vest to address a long-ago grudge with zebras.

The results of our activities impact animals in many ways. Many times per week I see proof a deer was not as fast as the freight truck that turned it into a splat-mash or whizzing car that left a scatter trail of plastic parts with the roadside body much appreciated by the carrion eaters. (I’d be sure the carrion eaters love us.) If you think about it, the cleared verges of our highways have created ribbons of meadow extending from the Twin Ports all the way to the borders north and easy following the Highway 53 and 61 corridors. That’s a lot of man-made prairie where no such thing existed in the day of Radisson, La Salle, or Du Luth. Our efforts have made uncounted meadow voles quite happy until the roadside mowers arrive with yet another transformation to the landscape. My base view is leave wildlife alone, but in so many cases it is far too late for that simple tactic and we are forced to get involved with harvest tactics and management of the unmanageable. (How nice if we could only manage ourselves.)

The thing current on my mind today is another seasonal migration, that of the Road Geese. If you live along the North Shore you’ll know that Highway 61 changes tempo starting approx. noon on Friday as the vehicular Honkers of Canada begin their straight-line formation to reach this big box store or that before the competition can swoop in to gobble up all that fine Asian ware. (The reverse migration comes on Sunday with its peak hit approx. an hour after dark.) Road geese are difficult to predict except in one area, that of blind speed. I figured it out and by traveling above the limit the lucky honker can pick up an extra fifteen or twenty minutes of time, enough for a cup of coffee which at a higher rate of fuel consumption is like to have a cost of $25. That’s outrageous so I hope they invest the time trying on a third pair of shoes or something else of practical value like chocolate covered cherries that fly off the shelves of local stores whenever a gaggle of road geese visits a local store instead of making the entire migration.

The real unpredictability of a road goose is the nature of its got-to-hurry rush to get there. I can be going the legal speed when a vehicle comes up rapidly from behind. Even with clear road ahead around half the hurrying road geese will slow to my speed at a rear view filling distance. There they linger, honkers suddenly empty of instinct and devoid of drive. Have they forgot the value of those extra coffee minutes? I can only wonder, but in pity of true dumb animals I will sometimes slow a bit and ease right so they can more easily see clear road ahead. Remarkably, a good many will not know what to do. It’s a response I compare to folk slowing down in the North Shore tunnels, as assume so that in case the roof caves in they’ll have time to stop if not squashed in the collapse. It takes some geese a good many minutes to comprehend the terrain ahead. I’ve come to expect them to waver in my rear-view until a curve looms. Suddenly they are transformed into action. Why with miles of clear road they wait until the last risky bit to pass is one of the animal mysteries.

Another road goose type is all headlong flight with blind disregard for yellow lines or traffic. I have seen people rocket up a blind curve to pass two vehicles where only dumb luck will save them. I can abide a suicidal road goose, really I can, but as the oncoming car is probably innocent the suicidal honker then becomes a homicidal road goose. Myself, seeing as we have lavished funds on bicycle roads with bridges able to carry our larger dump trucks, rumbling and un-rumbling patches of road, I think a separate goose route would be in order where one homicidal honk kills another without risk to the rest of us. Not only is this safety for us; it is a boon for the genetic future of all mankind.