Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mother Goose

If we all search back deep into our childhood psyche, I am quite certain that we will find this iconic image buried in there somewhere:

That's right. Mother Goose. Who can forget "Baa Baa Black Sheep", "Georgy Porgy", and "Hickory Dickory Dock", all told lovingly in that soft British accent by this famous narrator of nursery rhymes and lover of children everywhere.

Lover of children, maybe, but not of dogs. At least not of the Beast...

Let's rewind a little...

Until I moved to Ottawa, I had never seen a Canada Goose up close. I'd seen them flying overhead in a great big V, migrating south for the winter and returning in the spring.  And once, on a school field trip to the Fort Whyte Nature Centre in Winnipeg, I saw a gaggle of them hanging out in a big marshy field. But I'd never stood, you know, right close to one of them. And so, like many Canadians, I shared that romantic notion of this noble creature who is a symbol of our great nation.

And then I went for a bike ride down the Ottawa River pathway one day. And I saw one up close. As in inches away.

Let me tell you, they are nasty. N-A-S-T-Y. They take over the entire river pathway, walking back and forth in front of walkers, joggers and cyclists without fear. They stare you down as you pass by, almost daring you to try to get them to move. And they shit. Everywhere. I shudder to think of the layer of green goose shit that is on my bike tires and on the bottom of my running shoes. Green!!!! I mean, is there anything grosser than that?

They positively ruin the most peaceful run down the pathway. In fact, I am not ashamed to admit that I am more than a little scared of them.  (Pigeons too, but that's a whole other story for another time). I have actually found myself foregoing a run down the river just so that I can avoid those disgusting creatures. Which is sad, because the path is such a beautiful spot to run.

And then I got the Beast.

Shortly after I taught him to run nicely alongside of me, I took him and my brother's dog for a run along the river for the first time - one dog tethered to either side of me. The first kilometre was a bit of a gong show. My brother's dog channels all of his herding instinct into chasing squirrels, and there are an awful lot of them down by the river. Being tied to my waist does not stop him from trying to catch them either. It just puts me at severe risk of ending up with a displaced hip at the tender age of 35. And indeed, there was a lot of swearing as Toby kept trying to tear off after black and grey rodents. He was actually making the Beast look relatively well behaved, which, back in the early days of our time together, was no small feat.

Eventually, Toby got tired of being unable to catch squirrels, and he settled into a nice trot alongside me. Just in time for the Beast to spot his very first Canada goose.

Up until that point, I had been thanking the gods of dogs that, of all the behavioural issues the Beast was unveiling to me on a daily basis, herding small animals was not one of them. It made it infinitely easier to teach him how to run nicely alongside me or alongside my bike without fear for my joints. And so the thought never even occurred to me that the Beast might have an innate desire to herd geese... And had I even suspected that, I probably would have been deathly afraid for my very life, since those fearless, nasty birds would likely just turn around and attack us if the Beast dared to get too near. And then they would shit on us just for good measure.

And lo and behold, the Beast saw his first goose, and he bolted. Or tried to. Being tethered to my waist did prove to be somewhat of a hindrance. Frustrated that he couldn't get closer to the geese, he started to bark and flail like a rabid dog. Which set Toby off. Which led to me having two mad dogs tethered to my waist flailing about and barking like they were possessed, dragging me back and forth across the pathway like a freaking rag doll.

I was struggling so mightily to gain control of these two jackasses that I barely had time to be terrified that the we were about to be attacked by geese. And then, all of a sudden, I realized that we were NOT, in fact, being attacked. Quite the opposite, actually. The geese were running away, heading for the safety of the river, with the sentry loudly honking to alert the gaggle-members further down the path that two monsters were coming.

It was fantastic!!!

So fantastic that I forgot to be mad at the dogs for misbehaving!!!! Instead, I just firmly planted my legs on the path and let them bark and bark and bark and flail and flail and flail until the very last bird hopped into the river to get away.

And then I laughed. Maniacally. Cyclists and fellow joggers going by quite possibly thought I was insane.

When I got home, I ecstatically told Hubby that I never had to fear running down the river pathway again, because the Beast was going to keep me safe!!!  "You should have seen it, honey. He cleared the path. Like 20 birds - poof - GONE!!!!  If there wasn't so much goose shit along the path, I could have rolled around and done cartwheels without hitting one damn goose!  Woohooo!!!!"

(I'm quite certain that Hubby didn't share my enthusiasm. But then again, he does not have an irrational fear of birds....)

Well, he might not care, but this was a life-changing event for me and the Beast. Every single run, I found myself going down the path, enjoying morning sunrise after morning sunrise over the Ottawa River for the whole of summer. And I don' know much about the goose-to-goose communication chain, but I do know that word somehow got around that they should all be on watch for the red-and-white monster who appeared suddenly out of nowhere. Because whenever they caught his scent, the sentry would bellow and hurry the gaggle out of the way to safety, leaving the entire path to me. Fabulous!!!!

Now having a dog who likes to scare geese definitely has its benefits, but it also has its risks. He has, for instance, pulled me down off my bike in his enthusiasm to herd these nasty birds. But frankly, a little scrape here and there is worth it if it means I'm not going to get stared down by those cold, beady eyes....

Which brings us back to present-day...

No longer having to be afraid of geese means that I have boldly ventured out onto the path every single day that the Beast and I have gone out for our morning run or bike ride. No longer does my heart start to beat a little more quickly when I see them up ahead, because I am confident that as soon as they smell him coming, they will flee in fear.

What I did not count on was hatching season...

You see, by the time the Beast came to me last year, there were no goslings along the path - they were already teenage geese - big enough to defend themselves and no longer needing the fierce protection of Mother Goose...

But this year, last week in fact, the Beast and I biked smack into the middle of a goose family....

I saw the adults from far away. But did I worry? Of course not. As soon as they noticed the Beast, they would be gone... And sure enough, the familiar HHHHOOOONNNNKKKK of the sentry soon rang out, prompting the geese to head for the river.

All but one rather large goose, that is... The sentry was not moving toward the river, but it did appear to be directing others with its large wing, honking madly. And the others happened to be babies. Little fluffy, yellow, cute goslings, hurrying as fast as their little goose legs would take them.

And then it hit me... This was no sentry. This was a Mama Goose, desperately trying to get her babes to safety...

The babies made it across the path and into the water just before my bike glided past, with a very curious and interested Beast watching the goslings with perked up ears. "Phew," I thought to myself. "The babies are safe..."

And then I realized that Mama had not followed them into the river. Nope - she did this instead:



Except she was facing me, and was about 6 inches away from my rear bike tire, and she was violently hissing. So it was way, way scarier. Even the Beast got scared, and jumped up ahead of the bike. For one frightening moment, I thought he was going to pull me down on top of him, and the Mama goose would attack us. With my heart somewhere in my throat, I peddled as fast as I could, convinced that she was following us but too terrified to look back. "Hustle, Beastie! HUSTLE!!!!" I yelled at him, panicked, as he sped along beside me with his tongue hanging out. We must have been quite the sight to passers-by, but I didn't care. I wasn't stopping until we could get off that river path and away from psycho-Mama...

About a kilometre up, we turned off the path and into a residential neighbourhood. When I was satisfied that the coast was clear, I pulled over by the side of a baseball diamond. Both of us were panting from exertion, so I poured the Beast some water and let him have a drink while I willed my heart rate to slow down. "Whew.... That was a little too close, eh Beastie?" I said as I reached down and pet his head.

And then I started to laugh. And laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh. Which made me cough and gasp for air. Which prompted a couple out with their dog to stop and ask me if everything was okay. I could barely stop laughing and coughing and gasping long enough to tell them that the Beast and I had just been chased by a mama goose protecting her young. And by the look on their faces, I could tell  they thought that I was the most ridiculous woman they had ever stumbled upon. "Oh," said the nice-looking lady, "that sounds, er, well, um, terrifying. Will you look at the time? I've got to go. But it was really nice meeting you and your dog, and I hope that you don't meet any geese on the way home."

Which, of course, just made me laugh even more, as I sputtered out, "Yeah. Me too!!!!"

So, the moral of this story is that this whole notion of a loving, nurturing, not-at-all-scary Mother Goose is bullshit.

Or maybe that's gooseshit...

Either way, Mother Goose doesn't have glasses, or a book of nursery rhymes, or a nice looking bonnet. And she doesn't gather children around her to tell them little rhymes. No - she's got a six-foot wingspan, big sharp teeth, and a rattle-snake-like hiss. And she's effin' mean. So look out. Because even with the Beast, you're not safe from that crazy bitch!

Which leaves me back to being scared of geese. At least for the month of May, during hatching season...