Drama at the Duck Pond

(Originally published in Main Line Life on 6/25/08.)

There are many great benefits that come from having a college campus in your community. Here on the Main Line, we are lucky to have several beautiful campuses in our midst. Bryn Mawr, Villanova, Haverford, Rosemont, Cabrini – all offer a myriad of wonderful opportunities for those of us who are no longer in college, but are able to avail ourselves of the rich cultural opportunities these institutions so generously share with surrounding community members. I have attended literary events, musical performances, art gallery openings, lectures by internationally recognized academicians, and political rallies, most of which have been free of charge to the general public.

But I have to admit my favorite “perk” of having all these great campuses in our midst is the nature trail and pond at the Haverford College campus. For the past several years, I have walked nearly every day on the nature trail that winds around the perimeter of the campus. The only time I don’t walk is if it is pouring rain or way below freezing.

Spring and early summer are a particularly delightful time to explore the nature trail and pond. There are so many flowering trees and shrubs on the campus that nearly everywhere you walk you will catch a heady whiff of some fragrant blossom. The giant oaks form a shady canopy that not only keeps you cool as you walk, but also provide a home to the dozens of bird species that live in them. Many of the trees are labeled with small brass plates on their trunks, so a wanderer can learn much, should he or she have the curiosity to do so.
This spring, as in most past springs there was great drama at the duck pond. About eight weeks ago eleven downy goslings were hatched, and the proud mom and dad have been with them every minute since.

Watching the goslings and their parents has been like seeing an amazingly sped-up version of babyhood, adolescence, and adulthood all happen within a time span of just a couple of months. When the goslings were tiny little balls of pale yellow fluff, they were about as adorable a sight as you could ever see. They wobbled about a bit, but stayed very close to mom and dad and each other. They could all pile together in a heap and fit comfortably under mom’s wing, while dad stalked out the area around mom with a keen seriousness that didn’t brook any intruders.

When a person or dog or another goose came too close for dad’s comfort, he kicked into high gear. With a lightning swift, decisive spread of his full wingspan, dad would arch his neck and lunge crazily at the usurper, hissing wildly and flapping his wings mightily. Meanwhile, mom kept the goslings in line by keeping them in her immediate circle. She too could occasionally be seen hissing and flying boldly at anyone or anything that she perceived of as a threat.

The goslings seem to grow and change every single day. Becoming more playful and more adventurous, they and their parents still stayed close together, but you could see the wandering area expand bit by bit each day and week. Every day on my walk I have felt compelled to find them and count them. And every day when I counted eleven, I felt a measure of relief. I had heard there were a couple of foxes and raccoons on campus, and unleashed dogs are sometimes about.

I guess in goose-time, the goslings are like teenagers now. More brash, much larger, a little ungainly because of their enormous rapid growth, they are also more confident in their wanderings. Their distance from their parents grows as they grow.

Geese usually mate for life, choosing their mate their second year of life. Only if a mate dies, does a goose find a new partner. I know they are considered pests by some. They eat vegetation and leave their waste on grassy areas where humans might want to play Frisbee or lie in the sun. But watching them every spring as they raise and protect their young reminds us that they are just doing what comes naturally to most species. They remind us of how fast it all is – and how utterly quickly goslings fly away on their own.

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