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first person

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Illustration by Drew Shannon

I do not look forward to the return of Canada geese.

They represent Canada well: splendidly displayed on some Canadian coins and proudly named on jackets marketed around the world as a true Canadian icon.

And there is no doubt the bird’s distinct arrival notes the waning of winter. I always marvel at the V-like flying pattern the skein of geese maintain in the air, and their ability to uniformly work as a team to navigate and conserve energy for the benefit of all. Proudly they pronounce they are back with loud squawking and honking from the skies, broadcasting their presence as they land on top of parking garages, hang out on the top of apartment buildings, fly into parks and settle onto sidewalks. If the noise is not enough to mark their return, surely the trail of droppings offers further evidence as it is so often carried home on the soles of my shoes.

Their return marks the optimism of the coming spring and the joy it brings. And I welcome the chance to escape from the entrapment of the four walls that have kept me warm and sheltered. But I often find myself at the peril of this dominant species.

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In my home of London, Ont., Canada geese rule its urban terrain and have determined it to be theirs and only theirs. As majestic as they seem at a distance, make no mistake: these beasts rule the domain on which they land. Pedestrians must step aside wherever they plant their three toes – territory is swiftly claimed. Often it’s because there’s a nesting area by a sidewalk or in an alcove of a city bridge over a well-worn walking path.

Like many others, I enjoy venturing out on a nice early spring morning walk after a winter of self-imposed hibernation. I often bring my dog Mia. But since moving into the core of the city a few years ago, I have learned to dread the geese I find sharing my path. I am not sure what I have done to trigger the venom of my winged frenemies. Unnerved I have altered walking routes many times, and acted on advice from friends, neighbours and even a kind stranger that claimed to have a way with geese. To no avail, I am unable to befriend them. They hiss and flap and chase me and Mia.

My adult children have enjoyed my stories of terror over the past couple of years; they have laughed at and with me over my antics to escape from the birds’ wrath. I even carry a fog horn purchased from the dollar store to scare them off. But it’s never been used: I haven’t had the presence of mind to trigger it during an attack.

Oh, the trepidation each time I set out in the spring! This year, with a great deal of self-talk I assured myself that it would be different. With a change in my attitude the geese and I can live in harmony, I thought. Sadly, the terror lives on.

Recently, I chose a walking path that seemed to be clear. And they spotted me. Respectfully, I crossed the street. No eye contact, no eye contact ... keep cool, keep cool, you are just imagining things, I whispered. My self-talk clearly in overdrive. Peripherally I kept an eye on them. Did they see me? And then it began. The wings expanded, the squawking started. Oh my, the hissing! I pulled on my poor little Mia’s collar to get a move on.

The geese gave chase. I ran across the parking lot unaware of my surroundings. I was in full flight mode. I stumbled onto the street and heard a quick honking (pun intended) and squealing car tires that brought me back to the reality of the situation. The driver exited the car and proceeded to chastise me for running onto the street.

I don’t blame him but all rationality within me was lost in the dash to escape to save me and my Mia. Thankfully, he noticed the extent of my fright. Thankfully, he noted my state of shock and took pity on me. Thankfully, too, it is 7:15 a.m. and there is little traffic. We parted after he kindly asked if I was okay.

I don’t know ... this was not the start to spring I had wished for.

There is no short-term reprieve from my predicament, either. I read up on geese and discovered they have good memories and don’t forget people – that’s not good for me and my four-legged walking buddy. Geese can also live for 20 years or more, a double whammy of bad news.

Our Canada geese reign dominant so I will continue to respect their rule.

Tomorrow I will alter my daily walk, once again.

Celeste Bondy-Zuk lives in London, Ont.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the Canadian goose was on the dollar coin. Of course, it is the loon on the loonie.

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