I saw them grazing at the church, the other day. The flock of earth-bound geese was eating grass and grubs in the spotty stretch of weeds between the big oak and the Presbyterian's bare cross.
I saw them again in the parking lot of the abandoned shopping center. I don't know what they were doing -- the place is boarded up, the bushes overgrown, the parking lot permanently empty -- but I saw them crossing the blacktop in a troop. They liked like they thought they belonged, though.
Most of the time, these geese gather at the shallow little lake in my subdivision. Non-migratory geese, they used to use the little lake as a way-station in their migration-circuits, but then they stayed one spring, and now they basically live here.
Someone set out food, and the geese gave up on flying.
They live like squatters, soiling the shallow water and leaving the banks littered with feathers and feces. Where once they crossed the continent, now, this is the extent of their explorations: The lake, the church and the parking lot.
When I think about it, I think these birds are tragic. Non-migratory geese. They're geese that gave up, geese that just quit.
It's like it was all too much for them: Life, changes, work and struggle. Migrations are done desperately, long flights directly into the unknown, and then it's like it just didn't seem worth it any more, for this flock.
These geese are like the old man I knew who stopped wearing pants when his wife died. He'd go to the store for milk, pick up the paper in his yard and even, sometimes, mow the lawn, but he always just wore boxer shorts, because in a world without his wife, what was the point of pants? It was anti-social and disgusting, but it was also a very visceral expression of despair. You saw him in his boxer shorts, and you were forced to ask the question: Why should he care?
When I think about the non-migratory geese, and about the idea of non-migratory geese, it seems so symbolic of despair.
The image of birds who don't fly reminds me of people who desperately want to leave home, but know they never will. It reminds me of the sound of a car that won't start in the morning, the feeling of overdue bills, and the way people at the laundry mat always seem tired. It's as if "non-migratory" birds could stand in for anyone who's given up, anyone who knows they've lost, and now they live their lives like late-game laps around a Monopoly board, trying to postpone the inevitable bankruptcy.
Most of the time, though, I don't stop and think about the sad symbolism of the birds, when I see them. I just wonder how they're doing, what they've found to eat over at that church, and how many goslings hatched this year. I laugh at them when they look like they're going shopping, and get defensive when I hear the neighborhood association would like the flock put down or driven off.
I kind of feel like they're mine, these geese, this sad and sloppy flock. They're sort of sorry looking, as they shuffle around, but I guess I identify with that. Maybe, they're here because they just quit, but everyone quits, at some place, and quitting can be a way of coming home. Quitting can be a kind of peace.
At some point, watching them molt all over my street and watching them wander around, from church to shopping center, I've come to want to watch out for them.
I wish they would fly away, take off in a crooked V and fly free, like I know they were meant to. But I'd be sad to see them go.
Daniel Silliman covers crime for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.