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Every morning and night, leaving from and returning to home, I roll down my car's driver's-side window half way and listen for the goose on the lake below my house. The big white-plumed bird never fails to offer a honk or two, either welcoming me home or saying goodbye.
The goose is the lone survivor of 10 goslings that arrived about a year ago. They looked then like miniature versions of Big Bird, running to and fro in a big box in my garage. The gang of geese grew quickly and moved by mid-spring into a pen in a farm building at my mom and dad's. I tried setting them free on the lake a short time later, but they were too young. On the second day, a snapping turtle caught and killed one. The remaining nine were corralled back into their pen.
A brother and I butchered one young goose in mid-summer, and it went into my freezer.
A couple of months later, the eight remaining geese made another move, into a fenced-in field behind my house. They grazed there all late summer and fall, growing fat and plump from the grass and the cracked corn I fed them twice a day. Late fall came and that meant butchering time. My brothers showed disdain for helping me with the grizzly job. Even brother Tim, who had helped me slaughter the first one, turned me down. That left my mother, who agreed, grudgingly, to show me the ropes.
On a chilly, gray early November day, we butchered four of them, a somber experience that scalded even my hardened conscience as I dipped headless geese into tubs of hot water to free their feathers.
Mom did the hardest part, removing the innards after I had removed all the feathers. The afternoon experience wasn't fun and after four birds were butchered, I raised my arms and swore to high heaven to never again raise or kill another goose. The other four geese were given reprieves and set free. They did fine until the lake froze over in January. The geese, one cold day, were gone. I worried a fox, coyote or raccoon had killed them. But a neighbor a half-mile away called to say he had four white geese at his house.
I wondered how the four fat birds could have waddled that far but they did and within a few days, they had wandered back on their own. But tragedy struck when the lake froze a second time. The geese again disappeared. One turned up in a nearby cow pasture, half eaten by something. Another was found wandering in corn stubble close to a mile away. It was saved.
No one has seen the other two again. They either became a snack for something higher up the food chain or found a new home. I suspect the former, since no one in the neighborhood has called to say they found the two missing birds. They couldn't really fly, only sail downhill.
The surviving goose has smartly stayed close to home and the lake provides protection from prowling nighttime animals. But the bird has to be lonely and I feel sorry for it. The three ducks that had been keeping the geese company for months either flew or wandered away. The two flying mallards may have winged off with other ducks and could be countless miles away.
The chubby white duck that couldn't fly probably fell victim to a predator when the lake froze over. No rural setting, not even a quiet farmyard, is immune from nature's laws of predator and prey.
As far as eating geese, I have had mixed results. I served one goose to dinner guests last fall - I baked it a bit too long and it was sort of tough. They picked at it and pretended it was tasty while eating the ham I fixed, thankfully, as a backup. The pears I sauteed in goose fat were wonderful and I've saved and frozen a few tablespoons of the fat for the future.
I gave one frozen bird away to a friend who wanted to try his luck and I fixed the third goose a couple of weeks ago. Cooked a shorter time, it was much better and what I didn't eat that night, I barbecued for sandwiches later in the week.
The last two geese remain in the basement deep freeze. I may try one for Easter but worry no one in my family will show up for dinner if goose is on the menu. I may end up eating them in solitude, in penance, perhaps for the hellish lives I put the birds through.
I wonder sometimes if the last goose's honks are greetings or veiled curses. If the goose could talk, its bill might spew four-letter words. But I've tried to make amends. Even though corn is worth $5 per bushel, I sneak a few handfuls now and then to the goose. Maybe the peace offering will work. But one thing I know for sure: The next time I have a hankering for goose, I'll order one through a catalog, ready-to-cook.