I Hope You Cooked a Goose for Christmas
I want to start off by saying that I like animals. I have dogs. I tolerate my in-laws’ cats. I don’t hunt. I’ve felt bad when I’ve accidentally hit a animal while driving. I feel that habitat loss is a pressing environmental issue. I’m not wild about birds (who, let’s face it, are basically flying disease vectors and the worst pet you can own), but I even think it’s worth halting logging in the Pacific Northwest to save the spotted owl. I like animals. With one exception: geese. Now Louis C.K. will tell you that deer are assholes, and I’m not here to argue with him, but deer have nothing on geese.
On one such occasion I was down by the fence feeding the horses near the farm’s small drainage pond. It’s been 25 years, so I don’t remember if the big white goose had always been there or if it was a new arrival at the pond. What I do remember is the sheer unadulterated terror of being attacked by a bird nearly as big as I was. It came at me wings wide, pecking and hissing, and chased me once, twice around the little pond. To this day I can remember how close it came to catching me and the pure panic I felt with the huge bird at my heels. After the second lap, I peeled off and sprinted to the farmhouse, gasping and sobbing. The big white goose didn’t catch me that day, but even as a small child I learned a lifelong lesson: geese are assholes.
Eventually my family moved from Ohio to Illinois, and while I escaped the fate of those poor souls who grow up where Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky come together, I did not escape geese. Our house in Illinois was on a pond large enough that the people in the neighborhood called it The Lake. The Lake was a popular spot for migrating Canadian geese, and it seemed that they were around the lake for most of the year. They would even raise their chicks on its banks. What these new geese didn’t know, couldn’t know, was that the tables had turned. Now I was big and they were small. Now I was aggressive and territorial and they were afraid. And now I had a 100-pound goose-hating yellow lab on my side.
Not that this change in the power dynamic stopped the geese from being assholes. When the chicks were around, the geese became particularly aggressive, refusing to move for even an ’89 Dodge Dynasty moving at high speed and honking its horn. As much as I wanted to, I never hit one with my car. After all, it’s rude to leave a 15-pound rotting corpse in the road in front of your neighbor’s house. Mostly, though, the geese exhibited their assholedom by shitting everywhere. A normal bird’s droppings are no big deal; a splash of white, a hint of berry, but little in the way of smell or volume. A goose, on the other hand, leaves behind poo that rivals that of a small dog. My usual method of dealing with this was to release first our normal-sized black lab and then, after she slowed down, our new huge yellow lab. When he was laid up with a bum knee, I would charge into the backyard myself, bellowing and swinging a nine iron. Neither I nor the dogs ever failed to drive the geese back to The Lake and out of our yard.
I was recently reminded of my long, antagonistic relationship with geese by the “Poultry Slam” episode of This American Life, the program from Chicago Public Radio. Every year, This American Life does an episode featuring stories about poultry, and this particular episode featured two mentions of geese. The first mention came during a story about a lawyer trying to prove that a convicted killer was not mentally competent enough to be executed. The state psychologist was arguing that because the killer could beat her at tic-tac-toe, he was competent enough to face the death penalty. The defense lawyer, who remembered seeing a chicken play tic-tac-toe at a fair as a child, set about trying to find a tic-tac-toe playing chicken to prove that being able to play the simple game did not make you mentally competent. The first tic-tac-toe playing bird she found was not a chicken but a goose. She immediately dismissed the idea of using a goose to bolster the defense, however, because geese “are nasty. They bite you. I didn’t want a goose running around the courtroom chasing someone.” I felt vindicated; I was not alone in my knowledge that geese are the worst.
Then, later in the program came a story about an eccentric Spaniard who had found a way to make foie gras without force-feeding the geese. The usual way to get a goose to grow a huge, tasty liver is to slide a tube down its throat and force-feed it. This process is considered cruel by many and has led many cities to ban the serving of foie gras. This Spaniard had figured out a way to get geese to grow oversized livers without using a feeding tube. I couldn’t help reflect that I don’t have a problem with force-feeding geese until their organs grow to unnatural size. I mean, if you don’t think a goose would hold you down, force-feed you, and then cut you open and eat your liver if it could, then you’ve never met a goose.