Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The urges of geese

Last weekend Deb and I made the run to Indy. (I think weekend runs to Indy will fill a couple of otherwise on-the-boat-weekends this year.) On the way home we stopped by the marina to check on Nomad. Somehow we managed to leave town without taking a boat key with us. All we could really ensure was that she was still floating and tied securely in her slip. We also checked out the big river / house boat that has moved onto the dock down from Nomad. It seems one of the other marinas on the lake has seen a serious rise in slip fees. Rumor has it a lot of new boats will be tied up around our little Com-Pac 27 this year. The river boat was an impressive piece and one could surely live aboard in comfort; but I am pleased that Deb and I are looking to the sailboat / ocean route instead. The river boat just looks like a floating house. And rivers, if I am honest, don't get far enough away from land to tug at my wanderlust.

Wanderlust. A serious disease with no known cure. Mine has been smoldering, banked by a winter too cold to do much riding and an economy that has put mine (and a lot of other airplanes) in the hanger more often than I like. It has been weeks since I have been "on the wind." Chaffing like a poorly tended line, working too hard at any project to distract myself from this inner irritation, I have become short tempered and hard to live with, pacing about the place even as I enjoy what we have made.

And then we saw the geese.

Thousands, 10s of thousands, of geese met us at the lake this weekend. They literally blackened the sky as they took off from the fields, jockeyed positions to fan out into long lines of formation flying, and headed off north east. Clouds of them lifted, looking for all the world like tiny thunderheads building over the dam and into the still cold sky. It was breathtaking, numbers uncountable, responding to an ancient instinct and rules of cooperation known only to animals on the fly. Those of us bound to Mother Earth were completely ignored by and of utterly no consequence to the airborne concert of noise and motion and spectacle.

Geese respond to an urge they can't name and don't pretend to understand. They don't really make any plan. I suspect they have no clue of where they are headed. Maybe they have no idea that they are headed anywhere. Maybe being "on the wind" is simply the life of a goose. In any case they just go. It may well be that they can't NOT go. It is what makes them geese.

Afterward, during the ride to St. Louis, (with the heater cranked to high to fight off the cold) I got to wondering how it is I have never seen such a thing before? Surely geese have been collecting in such numbers for all of time geese have flown anywhere. Clearly the lake is a regular stop on their travels. For more than a decade I have lived barely an hour from that lake. Yet this was the first time I have experienced one of nature's more amazing displays. For all of my miles on motorcycles, hours in the air, nights in tents and time spent sitting alone in empty places in the world, this is one that I missed. And it was just outside of being in my own back yard.

How many more utterly unsuspected yet astounding things are there to see out there? What surprises wait on an open ocean in a small boat? What is there to find along thousands of miles of coastline, poking among islands, anchored off of beeches or settling into new coves for a day or a week or a month? I don't know. I may never know. But I am fully caught up in the need to try and find out. I no more understand the need to try than the geese their need to go.

So now I'm a little bit better and a little bit worse. Figuring out how to go, working to be able to go, is also a part of the going. The only hint on the outside that we are on our way is little Nomad tied to her slip in a land-locked lake about as far from an ocean as is possible to be. But on the inside? The need to go is tied to a kind of thought that we have already left. How far we can get is not known. Maybe to where a boat is home. Maybe to where home is the East coast, or the East coast and the Keys, or the East coast and the Keys and the Islands. Maybe we can't get that far. But somewhere in the fever of my wanderlust I know the going is a thing in the past.

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