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Feathered Connections
By Pearl Homiak

I wasn't going to write an article this time because I've got a lot going on right now. But something, or rather three somethings, recently made me smile-Canada geese.

Now you might think, "She's got to be kidding! Doesn't she know the mess they cause in the Chicago area?" Well, yes, they do cause a mess. But Canada geese make me smile because they have been a positive link in my life going back to my years in Minot, North Dakota.

Canada geese are frequently visible in the spring and fall, flying and honking high in the sky in their familiar "V" formation. On the ground they are easily recognizable by their rotund, brown-feathered bodies and the white "chinstraps" under their sleek, black heads.

When Canada geese migrate north, many of them pause or even stay in North Dakota in the summer. Wherever they land, they tend to congregate in areas with short grass and substantial water. As far as I could see, or hear when I lived in North Dakota, no one there seems to mind the presence of Canada geese. In fact, I hardly noticed them when I lived in Minot; but, then, I guess I was just too busy raising my children. Yet, as I prepared to leave North Dakota, these geese became important to me.

My last few years in Minot were difficult ones. My husband had died suddenly a few years previously, my children had grown and were beginning to leave home, and the priest, Fr. Peter Bodnar and his family had left. (They are now in Merrillville, Indiana). I was also suffering from a major chemical imbalance in my body. (Fortunately, subsequent successful treatment of this in Chicagoland restored me to good health). I won't go into the specific details of my difficulties at that time. But I believe the Canada geese eased my transition and adjustment to the Chicago area.

During my final summer in Minot (1998), I attended a public event in the park by the Souris River, which winds in and out of Minot. Even though I didn't feel very well, I still tried to enjoy the festivities. In the early evening I paused near a walking bridge that crossed over the river and fretted about my unknown future as I focused on the river bank's tufted, green grass. Suddenly, a movement caught my attention, and I looked up. A Canada goose swooped past me and low over the bridge. Another goose came by, and then another. That's when I started noticing Canada geese and started appreciating them. The silent, unhurried grace and effortless glide of these beautiful birds raised my spirits, and, in spite of my melancholy, I smiled.

After I arrived in the Chicago area, I had a hard time adjusting and was feeling particularly lost. After all, I had left behind the familiar life I had known for 16 years-many friends, well-known places, good schools, reliable doctors, etc.-and migrated to Illinois, not realizing how difficult it would actually be in my then poor state of health. One day I went for a walk. As I passed the two retention ponds near my apartment, I was overjoyed to see several Canada geese bobbing on the water. Not only did I smile, but I also was thrilled to see that these marvelous birds were so nearby. After that I often walked in the vicinity of the ponds and stopped to gaze at the Canada geese. I rarely noticed their droppings, although these were particularly heavy during the one winter that the geese remained at the ponds instead of migrating farther south, as was usual.

As time went on, Canada geese continued to be an enjoyable focus for me. I found and purchased several Canada geese magnets and put them on my refrigerator. During one summer I participated in a middle-school project involving them (I was a teacher then). Once I even carried on a "conversation" with a Canada goose that I saw standing near my car in a parking lot. (No, I didn't honk at him. But we did seem to understand each other). Even today I gladly slow down my car when a mother goose and her goslings stop traffic as they indifferently waddle across a busy street. Rather than get impatient over them, I sit back and enjoy their casual jaunt and let any current worries flee. And then I smile.

A few years ago I moved to a different Chicago suburb where Canada geese do not usually congregate. Thus, I don't see them very often anymore. But recently someone who knows of my affinity for these grand birds told me to look out the window if I wanted to see my friends. As I wondered who these friends might be, I went to the window and craned my neck to get a good view. There before me in all their grandeur were three Canada geese strutting slowly but purposefully in single file across the short grass they love to eat. As I watched them, I felt joy rise in my heart. I gazed at them through the window until they had moved out of my sight. Involuntarily, it seemed, my mouth stretched into a wide grin, for once again, Canada geese made me smile.

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