This week I've watched a lone goose frozen in the ice on Hidden Lake behind my house. Dozens of other geese, and dozens of ducks, were luckier. In the bitter cold, the geese huddled on the ice near the small patch of water the ducks kept open.
All the lucky ones stayed apart from the unlucky one, aware, perhaps, that the bald eagle who nests in the trees on the opposite shore would arrive when the trapped goose looked weak. Four days ago I saw the eagle checking the situation in a series of low swoops.
Three days ago, the eagle alighted on the ice near the goose and watched closely. The goose had the strength to raise its head and honk, but the energy level appeared low. Seeing the same thing, the eagle took a few steps closer, moving behind the trapped goose. The goose must have sensed the approach of a moment of attack, as I did, because just when the critical moment seemed at hand, the goose flapped its big wings and reared its head in defense, causing the eagle to backtrack. Then the eagle approached again, and the trapped goose, at the critical instant, flapped and honked the eagle back. After three tries, the eagle flew away.
Until I saw this, I had thought of eagles as fearless. Now I have seen the conservative instinct for avoiding a fight. Eagles succeed because they wait for clear advantage.
Yesterday the temperature rose well above freezing for the first time in weeks, and the trapped goose seemed energized. It continually looked down at the ice that held its legs, but it did not try to break up the ice with its beak. More and more of its body was visible as the top layer of lake ice melted. Sometime after lunch, I saw the goose standing away from the place where it had finally pulled free. It stood in that place all day, never entering the water. I think it is missing a leg.
This morning it is still standing in that place. Dozens of ducks patrol the patch of open water. All the other geese have gone somewhere else. Can the lone goose fly? Has it been written off by its community?
Tuesday as I watched it "calling for help" while trapped in the ice, I relived the last days of my late wife. I had sometimes called her a Dutch goose. I didn't want my Dutch goose to die, but there was nothing to be done about it, and nothing to be done about the goose on Hidden Lake. I hope not to see it still and lifeless on the ice next week, a meal for an eagle.