jctv: 27.04.2012 HOME







Six Geese

Every time I cycle from Voorburg to Delft, or from Delft to Voorburg I meet six white geese. They live along a stretch of the Vliet-canal roughly between the Diakonessenhuis, where both Daniel and Rosie were born, and the small bridge where the canal forks, taking some to The Hague and others on to Leiden and Amsterdam, or Delft and Rotterdam, depending on whther you are going up or down. Classic white geese are among the handful of Dutch icons we pride, just a little less prominent than say, tulips, cows, cheese and clogs. Ganzenbord or ‘Gooseboard’  is the Dutch more tragic equivalent of snakes and ladders. Despite this important role in the constitution of our DNA, white geese do, it has to be said, look a little gormless. I cannot help myself here. They may not be of course, they may be extremely intelligent, but they keep that part well hidden: they are big, white, shapeless lumps with orange bits stuck into them to form a walking snowman with an improbably long neck. The point is that I have grown rather fond of them. Invariably they sit, stand or float about in perfect stillness, doing very little to any obvious purpose.  I flash past with my bike, always in a hurry, always filled to the brim with purpose and have to admit that I in fact get to see very little of their day. How can I possibly judge? What can I see of all their wild activity and purposeful bustling?

Not much.

And to make matters worse, over the years I have begun to suspect that there really isn’t all that much more to see. At whatever time I rush past, there they are, sitting, standing or floating about; that is what they do, and they do it very well. There used to be seven geese. But then there were six. I greet them during the dark months of the year and ask them how they are keeping up against the elements. They never reply, which is a relief as that would rather frighten me.

Over the last four weeks one of the geese had built her nest on a small concrete shelf on the narrow berm separating the bicycle path from the canal. From the start I was not impressed by her choice of location. I saw all sorts of dangers, particularly the danger of energetic young boys who, like all of us, know not what they do. Four weeks she persevered however, sitting on her eggs, never abandoning them to the water rats and other shady characters. It was exhausting just looking at her and I grew to respect her, despite her obvious poor judgment. I like doggedness, even in geese. Every time I passed and made sure she was alright I would stare with some impatience at the remaining five geese who were oblivious to the hard and purposeful work being done by their partner, continuing much as they did before. I once witnessed a cyclist with very thin wiry legs, dressed in impressive black and bright blue cycling gear and who had obviously come from far, feed the brooding goose with bread and other goodies. She was wild with gratitude. In fact there was a whole battery of concerned cyclists and boaters who would look at our silly goose perched in this impossible spot and (I imagine) philosophize about the inscrutable ways of the world. Last Friday, as I passed, she had left her nest and I saw two healthy looking eggs in it and thought that things must be coming to a head. On the following Monday I saw six white geese standing about on a lawn at the edge of the Vliet looking wistfully at a dashing Egyptian goose with a healthy brood of six busy chicks whom she was loudly tending to. There were no chicks following the white geese. I don’t know what happened. Something did. In any case they have resumed their great existential task in a tragic game.



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