Sink, Swim, or Fly


There is a lone goose on a vanishing dock.  The lakewater is up. The floating dock’s platform is gone from sight but a metal railing moored to the dock is still above the surface, barely.  Like the railing, the goose appears to be standing on water. As the dock dips further the goose has three options: sink, swim, or fly.


Rattle across the water, washboard blues and white streak through the air.  Look out minnows! It’s the kingfisher, flying from weeping willow to vanishing dock. It finds purchase on the railing, sticks there like a feathered magnet.


Saturday morning, more rain overnight, the dock is further submerged but inches below the surface the platform still hasn’t quit.  The heron knew it was there, trust in its water landing. Through the fog, its ankles under water, the heron keeps watch o’er the lake.  


The railing once supported a diving board.  We would swim out to the buoyant dock and jump off the board into the lake.  Now the railing looks like a pair of inexplicably floating pipes, pipes you might otherwise find carrying gas, snaking through a basement, elbows and turns.  The diving board is long gone. Was it carefully removed and row-boated away? Was it pried off by weather and winter, rust and wind, sunk to the bottom of the lake, anchor of eventual railing?


Standing there for hours, the heron.  Like a statue, like a fixture. Its feet taking root.  On the submerged dock, in the fog, in the rain.


Serious birdwatching takes all of a day, a week, a month, a year.  The goose that was on the dock appears suddenly on one shore or another, invariably standing, looking out at the lake.  Its wings look ruffled, like its hair has been mussed, or it has a cowlick—or it is injured. How did it get from the dock to the neighbor’s point?  Then to our point? Back to the dock? Can it fly or did it swim? If I sat and watched all day I would know something like that.


Later the goose is on the bank at the end of a cove on the other side of my parents’ house, accompanied by a pair of mallards.  I walk outside, stirring it. With a limp it walks along the shore before getting in the water, swimming more gracefully than it walked.  Another Canada goose flies in, from a neighboring lake, sounding. The lone goose sounds back, full and forcefully at first. Then its voice begins to fail, its neck kinking and bobbing but lacking the appropriate soundtrack.


I spend a half-hour raiding my mom’s mason jar collection.  She’s out of town and I’m keeping my dad company. As I pack the jars in my car I think about the soup I’ll make, the pickles. Back inside I look out the window toward the dock. The goose is there with the mallards.  Ten minutes later I look out again. The mallards are gone but the goose remains.