Goose’s Warm Toes

This is the gander who herds the pigs.
Herds the pigs so they head up to the hill.
Up to their homes in the cool winter evening.
Homes in the hill filled with soft downy hay.
Hay in their beds to snuggle down deep.
On the pig’s back the goose warms his feet.

I took this photo early this morning with the warm rising sun filling the pig dens in the hill. From the photo and the light it is hard to realize that it is -3째F and there is a foot of snow on the ground. The gander, as is his habit, was sleeping on top of the pigs. Pigs have a normal body temperature of 103째F which may well be why he likes to sleep on top of the pig pile. The fact that they out weigh him by a factor of forty to fifty might be another reason – for him the top is preferable to the bottom of the pile where the pigs like to be.

The Gander, he has no other name known to me, was given to us by our mail carrier, Annie. She raises geese. A bit over a year ago she gave us a pair. Sadly the female walked off to the marsh down in the valley. It found a lovely beaver pond and stayed in the middle where we could not catch it to bring it back. I had hoped the gander’s calls would enticer her to return but no deal. After three days we stopped hearing her. I suspect that one of our local predators, of whom there are many, caught up with her and invited her home to dinner to put it politely and euphemistically.

The gander first tried to bond with the ducks but they would have nothing to do with him. The drake did not take kindly to this over grown and colorful buffoon horning into his cozy little harem. After being soundly and repeatedly rebuffed the gander started hanging out with the dozen piglets we had at the time. They were only about 30 lbs each which made them a companionable size. They let him sleep on top of their pig pile and herd them around so a close bond was formed. Later he cared for and herded the piglets of some of those pigs when they farrowed this summer.

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At one point the gander got airs about him and thought he could tell the dogs what to do. Saturn promptly and decisively put an end to that notion with a paw firmly holding the bossy bird’s head to the ground. Guardian dogs are up near the top of the animal farm chain of command and are not about to release that title to a mere fowl. After that they got along fine and the gander always moved when the dogs said ‘go’.

Over the course of the summer his flight feathers grew back in, I had clipped both him and his mate when they arrived. The first time he flew, racing down hill across the south pasture, I think he was quite astonished, “My God!” he honked “The earth has left my feet! Help!” After a mildly disastrous but survivable landing – he walked away from it after all – he started practicing regularly. He would walk up the hill to the look out rock on the new garden terrace. From there he would watch over things for a while, spread his wings and get them warmed with some preliminary exercises. When he had gotten his courage up he would jump off the 25′ cliff gliding down across the pond level and between the sugar maple trees into the bottom of the south field.

The first time I saw him actually flap was when Holly mistakenly stepped right into his path as he was practicing. He started honking but there was no way he had enough control to do anything about it. “Lady, move your butt off the runway!” I imagine he was yelling. She says she heard him, turned and saw this huge bird bearing down on her just a few feet away. She ducked, he goosed and back peddled in the air narrowly missing her head – thus a pileup was averted.

Once he knew he could flap he started doing it more and this eventually turned into powered flight. I wondered if he would fly away but I think that by then he was too firmly attached to his pigs. This fall his wild cousins flew high over heading south but he stayed with us. He still walks most of the time but everyone once in a while he takes off, usually from somewhere high, and thrills us with his flights. That is a lot of bird to be airborne.

Interestingly, for a short period of maybe a month the duck flock allowed the gander to hang out with them this fall. They tolerated his presence and there was peace among the water fowl. Then this week the big bird moved himself back up to be with his pigs. The one he is standing on in the photo was a little 25 lb gilt when he first met her. She is now well over 300 lbs but she, and all the others, still let the goose sleep on top.

I have the distinct, and perhaps dubious, honor of being able to tell jokes at the dinner table that cause my son to crack up laughing so hard that he will spew milk six feet out his nose until his face turns beet red and then deep blue from lack of oxygen.

5째F/-3째F, 1/8″ Snow, Sunny

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor…

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7 Responses to Goose’s Warm Toes

  1. gwen says:

    What a great story and what a fascinating gander!

  2. P.V. says:

    I love the story about the goose! Fantastic photo too! Thx four making it be a wide screan format cuz it fits my new powerbook. I downloaded the full photo for a desktop pic.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Walter,

    You really need to be published widely–I mean on paper. What a great story–never have I had such warm feelings for a gander…

  4. P.V. says:

    I second that! Even better hire me as your agent! I can jet around the country for you making all sorts of book deals to make you lots of moola!!! Just kidding but yu do write really well! I love reading your stuff and the pics and everything

  5. patina says:

    now wait a minute. how do you get down off a pig?

    oh, yeah, everybody knows you don’t get down off a pig. you get down off a goose.

  6. Barbara says:

    Interesting story, Walter. I am sorry I did not find it earlier. I had a similar experience with a gander whose 'ladies' had gone to brood. Gander was all lost for companions and wandered around our farm trying to 'make friends'.

    He eventually started hanging out with a bull that somebody had left in our care. The two of them became great friends and the bull shared his food with gander.

    Unfortunately gander did not know that trouble was waiting in the form of his own offspring. When the latter arrived, gander was conscious of the fact that he needed to be there for his own family – but – how could he combine these duties and still be seeing his friend the bull?

    We were all bemused with ganders plight and watched the poor thing tiring himself out waddling across the farm "on duty".

    Fortunately our farm is in a subtropical zone, so gander did not have to look for warmth with his friend. I wonder whether he would have slept on top of the bull if he was cold?

  7. Nicola says:

    Lovely poem and story! Thanks for sharing it!

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