Sunday, September 12, 2010

The goose head

I learned about a very strange incident this last week. If you’re queasy, don’t read on.

Two friends came to visit us on Thursday. We’ve known Louise for over 40 years, and we just met Elaine. Louise and Elaine are in their mid-70s, and they’re taking a three-week road trip from Washington State to Southern California. We were the second stop on their tour.

Our son David dropped in while they were with us. (Louise has known him since he was a baby.) We enjoyed looking at the photos, remembering times gone by, and especially honoring Alan, Louise’s late husband.

At the end of the day, we walked them to Elaine’s car where David noticed something strange lodged under the hood. He pointed it out to Elaine, and she immediately exclaimed, “Oh no! The goose head! I had forgotten all about it!”

“The what?” we asked.

“The goose head,” she repeated, and she told us this story. Just a week ago she had been driving down a country road when a wild goose flew into the front of her vehicle. A head-on collision. Elaine stopped the car, and ran out to see what had happened. The goose had been killed, and she found his body hanging down the front of the car, its head lodged in the hood. She tried to open the hood, but it was stuck fast.

Not able to work the goose loose, in desperation she gave one mighty yank, and the goose separated from his head. She quickly threw the body into a roadside ditch, got back in the car and drove on.

And, here’s the surprising part, she forgot all about it. (If I had a goose head stuck under my hood, I’d be thinking about it. A lot.)

So here we were, standing in the driveway, with our friends and their problem. David got some paper towels and began prying open the hood, coaxing the head, until it finally slipped out into his hand. It was, indeed, a goose head. Small, well-formed, complete, beak and all. It looked surprised, but that may well be my imagination. David disposed of the head, washed his hands, and we sent our friends on their way.

I still can’t fathom how the head kept its form. Or how it even managed to get into the hood of the car. Or what the goose was doing flying so low. It’s all so very strange.

When I started thinking back on this incident and writing this blog, I was focused on the strangeness and humor of the situation. But the more I ponder, the less funny it seems. I mentioned that the goose head was complete. I didn’t say that it was beautiful. But it was. Except for the fact that the life was gone.

I’m thinking about the conflict between nature and technology, remembering the title of a book I read for a literature survey class, The Machine in the Garden. So often the machine wins. This time it did.

No, I’m not going to let myself get overly sentimental about the death of this one goose, but I do feel sad. And I think the sadness is appropriate. As I understand Scripture, part of our being made in the image of God includes the assignment God gave us to be stewards over the creation, to love the earth, to care for the animals, to live responsibly. Terms like “road kill” are inherently offensive, yet they reflect a certain reality. “Road kill” is inevitable.

Why am I writing this? Is there a moral to this story, some point I can make about life or faith or something? I haven’t worked that out yet. I’m writing partly because the incident fascinates me and I’m still thinking about it. But I do sense a personal recommitment to doing whatever I can to care for creation and all its creatures, to respect and celebrate life. That includes the lives of my friends, Louise and Elaine. It includes remembering and missing Alan who is now with the Lord. It even includes feeling sad for the goose.


  1. This experience reminds me of Lydia Millet's strange and wonderful novel, _How the Dead Dream_.

  2. Thank you, Johan. I just checked and the Newberg library has it available.

  3. Did Judy make it home ok? Or does that happen this week?

  4. Seems to me you did have a moral application and it is beautiful. Our commissions to love and care for all that God does are truly sacred. Sacramental if you'll allow me that word. It is easy to let them slip from our awareness. Thanks for a poignant reminder.