“Charlie!” hooted Myrtle. “Charlie! We’re leaving, Charlie! The flock is leaving, Charlie! Do you understand what I say when I say ‘leaving’? CHARLIE!”
Charlie looked up. Myrtle, his mate, companion, and ever-exasperated friend, was honking at him in irritated tones. Behind her, Charlie could see their flock gaining altitude, their wings flapping heartily as the geese settled into something resembling a pattern. The younger geese were still learning how the classic V-formation was supposed to work, and some mornings were deemed a success when nobody got lost. Well, no one but Charlie.
Charlie had been looking at the long grass next to the lawn where the flock had settled an hour or so earlier. The flock always landed on short grass. It was what they’d done since… well, before Charlie was hatched, and that was all that mattered.
But sometimes there was no short grass in an area the flock was over. Or some other flock had already landed there, and intruding on another flock resulted in hissing and honking and bad behavior on everyone’s part. Or two-legs would yell and fuss and make noises. Short grass places were not always easy.
Long grass places happened more often, Charlie had noticed. Maybe long grass was okay? Charlie didn’t know. So Charlie had been looking at the long grass place next to the short grass place, sampling the grass, and then the flock took off, and now Myrtle was irked at him. Again.
Charlies took flight, and he and Myrtle made the extra effort to catch up to the flock. They joined in the V-formation, settling into the steady flight made easier by the way the air broke thanks to the other birds, making the occasional encouraging HONK to let the leader know the flock was still following along.
“Charlie. Charlie! Charlie! You’re up!” honked Max, who had been at the tip of the V. Since the leader put in the most effort, the flock rotated the mature members so that everyone took a turn. It was always a gamble when Charlie’s turn came up. Would he forget the direction they were heading? (“South, Charlie, we’re going south, the days and nights are getting colder, remember? South. It doesn’t have to be straight south, okay, but a general south-ish direction would be good. Okay, Charlie? Okay?”) Would he get distracted or confused by something on the ground? (“Water is usually shiny, Charlie, but not all shiny things are water, okay?”) Life was never easy with Charlie.
“Lunch time, Charlie!” honked Lea. Just in case he needed reminding. Which probably he did. “Looking for short grass places, Charlie!”
Charlie scanned the ground below. There was a good place — no, already a flock there, maybe two, not good enough. Maybe over there? Water and short grass — no, two legs were all over with their little clubs following the white eggs they swatted.
“Charlie! We’re hungry, Charlie! Where are we going to go, Charlie?” The formation’s shape was starting to fall apart—less like a “V” and more like something Greek. Or maybe Sanskrit.
There! It was a tall grass patch. But there would be short grass in there, too. Charlie’s earlier investigation had found both size grasses could be found together. Charlie landed on the flat ground next to the tall grass place and waddled in.
“Charrrrrrlllllie!” Myrtle wailed. But her mate was already feeding, and when he got like this only a nip would distract him. The flock muddled around on the flat place, unsure what to do. Then, one by one, they waddled into the tall grass and found things to eat. Some of the grass had gone to seed, and that was tasty. The guards kept their heads high, but it was an effort to see over the tall grass; still, guarding was what always happened, so they kept guarding.
“Hey, Myrtle!” said Charlie, sticking his head through a weed clump while smacking on seeds. “I found us a place to eat!”
“You did, Charlie. You did.” Myrtle ducked her head and they touched beaks, then went back to grazing.
My wife and I indulge in making up stories about things we see on our daily commutes. One time we made up a story about a pair of geese named Charlie and Myrtle. Charlie was a bit of a misfit. Myrtle loved him anyway.
Responders commented that they felt like Charlie, sometimes.
And not long afterward we saw a flock of geese (almost certainly not the same ones, but who knows?) in a field of tall grass, which is not normal goose behavior. Maybe Charlie, or his spiritual twin, had something to do with that?
Copyright ©2018 by Jack Herlocker. All right reserved, including the right to lead the flock into the tall grass when we’ve always stuck to the short grass places.