Ways of seeing: Geese offer a lesson in caring

There is a small pond on our farm, created many years ago when we had a shallow dug well and worried about running out of water for the sheep. Over the years, the pond has afforded much pleasure after hot days of haying or just lazing during the beautiful Vermont summer. For the past decade or so, the pond has also served as a short-term migration stop for Canada Geese. A few arrive in the spring, raise their goslings, and fly away by early summer.

This year one lone goose was left behind. It just walked around, did not seem afraid of us, sometimes hung out by the garden, and sometimes wandered up near the house. We believed it had a broken wing, although Don thought he saw it flying one day. We called VINS (Vermont Institute of Natural Sciences) to see if they could rehab it if we could catch it.

But they had too many birds already and said that if we could keep some water open and set out a little food from time to time, the goose would make it through the winter. About two weeks ago, seven other geese landed on the pond, stayed overnight, and flew off. “Our goose” was never seen after that and we believe his flock mates had come to gather him up. Maybe we had never seen him flying because he didn’t know where to go on his own. Maybe he needed to be embraced by his community to survive and thrive.

I’ve been thinking a lot about places of refuge — places where we feel safe, can heal, and can gather strength for whatever lies ahead. We have felt so blessed these past years to be living in Vermont, where people take care of each other, we are surrounded by beauty, and have so far escaped the worst effects of climate change, political wrangling, and many of the other ills facing our nation and world. There is hopefulness that, as we work and learn together, we can acknowledge and make amends for injuries we have inflicted on one another in the past. There is hopefulness that we are learning from the COVID experience and will become stronger together. There is hopefulness that Vermont can be a place of refuge for a more diverse population.

I am especially excited to know that many of the small rural schools in our state are now exploring how to become community centers. Instead of shuttering their doors, they are expanding services to the wider community. I am excited by the hope that we could do this for all the schools in Addison County, and that we could do it together so all children would have access to great teachers, personalized learning, support for their families, and a vibrant cultural and economic environment.

There are many “lessons from geese” in anecdotes and poems. My “lesson” from this recent episode by the pond, is the reminder to wait patiently, trust that our community won’t forget those who fall behind and work diligently to assure that all of us can keep flying forward.

Cheryl Mitchell is president of Treleven, a retreat and learning program located on her family’s sheep farm in Addison County. She does freelance consulting on issues related to children, families, social policy and farm to community work. She can be reached at [email protected].

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