Monday Motivation: Three honks for the coronavirus

 In Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog

There are on the lake on which our houseboat is moored cormorants and swans, black-headed gulls and common terns, mallard ducks and moorhens, a resident heron, a pair of crested grebes, coots and a raucous flock of Canada geese.

Canada geese are large birds with black and white colouring. Their heads and necks are black with a distinct white chinstrap.

I say, a “flock” – but actually the Canada geese consist of a number of warring factions; small colloquys of birds that cruise about the lake in search, apparently, of opportunities for disputation with other groups. When they meet, they engage in disorderly debate that frequently disintegrates into physical violence with one or more geese attacking another, both on the water and in the air.

I’d thought on the basis of my early encounters with the geese that that’s all they were: fairly disreputable, ill-tempered creatures quite capable of murder in pursuit of their disagreeable agendas.

The virus – and a prolonged procession of warm spring days – has caused me to revise this opinion.

This is what I observed: A goose was standing, as these water birds are wont to do, on one leg on one of the extensions of the jetty to which our houseboat is tethered. A half hour or so before, a companion had leapt into the water and paddled off in search, I imagined, of a brawl. But now there it was, returning along the broad avenue of water that runs down the middle of the lake between ranks of narrow and wide-beam boats. My bird, the one standing on one leg, gave a loud honk – had I mentioned that that’s their characteristic call? – and leapt in his turn into the water.

He paddled energetically towards the other honking furiously and I thought, Oh, oh – here’s trouble. As he approached, his honking grew more and more intense, ranging in tone from deep, foghorn rumbles to contralto cries of what I realized was… delight.

These were mates – Mr G informed me that Canada geese are monogamous and mate for life – and were greeting each other with unalloyed pleasure. What I was witnessing was a kind of renewal of vows. He honked, she murmured in basso profundo, and the two geese circled eyeing each other with undisguised pleasure.

In fact, call me an anthropomorphist, but I’d swear that what I was witnessing, and continued to witness for the next many days, was unambiguous avian adoration.

I struggled for some time to tease out a lesson for writers from these observations before I realized it was staring me in the face: Our first impressions are almost always mistaken. It takes time, and focused observation to discern the reality behind the stereotype, to recognize that a thunderous honk can as easily signal love as it does murderous intent.

So let’s use these corona days to examine the details – and to draw some fresh, and refreshing, conclusions.

Happy writing,


P.S. And on a deeply personal note, let me record that when, now, I see Trish after a gap of minutes or hours, I too give a gentle honk of renewed pleasure and delight.

Read Jo-Anne’s latest blog: ‘Writing Secrets: How to leave out the bits that readers skip

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