Bruce didn’t always have a name. In the beginning he was just The Goose. And he was nasty — ‘assertive’ if it’s my brother talking. As far as I’m concerned, he still is. Nasty, I mean. (The goose, not my brother.) But ever since Bruce got a name, something’s changed in the way I feel about him. I like him now. This is how it happened:
My brother lives on a farm. At least it used to be a farm. Now it’s a lot of uncultivated land with pretty views, a pond full of beavers, assorted outbuildings, some chickens, a bunch of farm cats, and Bruce. Several years ago, someone gave my brother a pair of geese, possibly in trade for some service or a season’s worth of fresh vegetables, I can’t recall. But the point is that the two geese, one male and one female, came to live on the farm.
The pair had the run of the place, and run they did. In the fall they’d hang way out back at the pond, where the migrating wild geese stopped for a night or two on their way south. On sunny summer days you’d find them sitting in the shade near the driveway, ready to produce a cacophony of honks and squawks whenever someone came down the road. From inside the house it sounded like one of the dogs barking. Over time, in order to distinguish one from the other, we began calling the male Goosey and his mate, Mrs. Goose. Together, they patrolled the border, harassed the chickens, menaced the dogs and generally assumed ownership of the entire yard. On occasion, if a kid wasn’t quick, Goosey’s neck would shoot out like a whip to skin a bit of flesh off an arm or thigh. The kid would instantly acquire a huge black-and-blue mark and Goosey would saunter off, chest puffed out, secure in the knowledge that he retained control of the territory.
Then the unthinkable happened. One morning, when my brother went out to do morning chores, there was just Goosey, sitting in his usual place by the back door, and strangely silent. No Mrs. Goose. My brother quickly found her, or what was left of her, in a sad pile of feathers, skin and bone, apparently eaten by a coyote. We all felt bad but, “Hey,” we said to one another, “she’s just a farm animal. It’s the circle of life and all that.”
Goosey didn’t share our acceptance. He moped around. He picked at his food. We told ourselves we were anthropomorphizing his behaviors, yet it was clear that he just wasn’t his usual self. We figured he’d get over it in time. He didn’t. It turns out that geese, both wild and domestic, form enduring bonds, often for life, and they have excellent memories. They are intelligent, and also quite social, which means they sometimes bond with whoever’s around. In this case, Goosey chose my brother.
It happened gradually. One morning when my brother went out for his morning walk, Goosey came trotting along beside him. Then Goosey started hanging around the garden gate, ready to race over to greet my brother whenever he came out of the house. Pretty soon he was taking treats from my brother’s hand, nuzzling up to his legs in the manner of a cat, and even allowing himself to be stroked on the head and neck. But only by my brother.
For the rest of us, Goosey — who my brother had now christened Bruce — serves up only scorn. In the case of my sister-in-law, jealousy has prompted Bruce to jump on her back and beat her about the head with his wings. It sounds funny, and it is, unless you’re the one with a 20-pound goose biting your shoulder. As for myself, I sported two, painful, silver-dollar sized bruises on an inner thigh for over two weeks, acquired from Bruce as punishment for getting between him and his human. (The human in question had a good laugh over my indignity and even I had to chuckle.)
So why do I like Bruce? Because I now know him to be an individual — a unique creature who feels loss, pain, love and loyalty. He has his own personality and his own name. He has transcended the object “goose” to become the subject “Bruce.” And that, to mis-apply Robert Frost, has made all the difference.