Photo: Annie Spratt
Despite the best efforts of the Mojave to hold me fast with its beauty and dear people, I left in 2010 for Bend, Or. Every object I owned was in a 5X8 trailer and my Vibe. The four cats who own me were in solitary in the back of what they knew was the Terrible Thing.
I carried with me the silhouette of the Joshua Buddha and 395 sightings of the moon. I carried in my cells the sensations of pressing my face to the rough bark of the old Joshua west of my cabin and breathing in its fine scent.
There was the solid joy of knowing my second novel, Going Through Ghosts, would be published by University of Nevada Press in Spring 2010. I drove in the company of those desert blessings. I knew I owed them and my green Northern future my life.
Two nights later, I walked out into my new neighborhood. The cats were settled on my bed. They had almost forgiven me for the terrible experience in the Terrible Thing.
I walked the city streets the way I walk off-trail. Checking for landmarks, turning around to be sure that on the way back I would recognize where I was. After fifteen minutes of not coveting the little houses, not judging the McMansions — I lie — and being greeted with smiles and conversation all along the way, I found myself at Drake Park along the Deschutes River.
The sun went gold under banks of gray and silver clouds. I found a flock of Canada Geese. There were females, ganders and fuzzy goslings on the cusp of being able to say, “NO!, mommy.”
The sky went from gold to flame. I imagined the Joshua Buddha behind me, the sun gone down behind indigo desert mountains. The geese murmured and honked to each other. The Deschutes became a satin ribbon of pink, scarlet and purple. I felt astonished that I had come to this tender place and could long for the tough desert.
Three frat boys swaggered toward me, stomping hard to scare the geese. The birds seemed to shrug and step away. Except for a pair. One of the guys suddenly yelled and bolted. I hoped he’d learned how hard a goose or gander can bite.
A mid-thirties mom and dad walked toward me, their two little boys behind them. The older boy, about 7, was throwing handfuls of gravel at the geese. I thought the parents would notice what the kids were doing and tell them to stop. The boys ran ahead. I walked past the mom and dad, turned and caught up with the boys. The older child picked up a handful of gravel and stalked the geese.
“Hey,” I said. “Don’t throw rocks at the geese.” He froze. He looked up at me with soft worried eyes and dropped the gravel. His younger brother watched in silence.
“All those geese,” I said, “are dad or mom geese. If you walk over the bridge you can see the babies. They’re fuzzy and they’re called goslings.”
The two boys were wide-eyed. “Treat the geese the way you would treat someone you love,” I said. “They can do stuff we can’t.”
The older boy laughed with delight. “I know!” he said. “They can put their heads under water and their butts go up and they can swim easy as anything…”
“and fly,” I said.
Mom and Dad approached. “I was explaining to your kids to not throw gravel at the geese. Your son here really understood.”
The parents smiled. Mom’s smile was wary. Dad had one of those tefloned ‘It’s allllll good’ smiles. “We saw you were having a conversation with them,” he said. “Yep,” I said. “They really listened.” I turned to the boys. “Thanks, guys,” I said. And walked on.
The geese had left feathers under one of the towering Ponderosa. I picked one up. I could tell you that the gray was the same color as the clouds that had moved in, but that would not be the whole truth. The gray was the precise gray of a Canada goose feather. It was the color of what a little boy might see some day — and want to protect.