Monday Writing Motivation: The Gosling Symphony

 In Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog

This is a story about a clutch of goose eggs, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and the eternal struggle between hope and despair.

You might remember my tale last year about the Canada geese that established a nest behind Brenda’s houseboat on our pontoon. The clutch was a great disappointment both to the residents of Pontoon F, and, no doubt, to the parents: not one of the seven or eight eggs that the pen laid hatched.

And in the month during which she sat her eggs, she and her gander, that is to say, her mate, incurred the displeasure of some of our neighbours by viciously attacking either them or their hounds. Caroline was a particularly vocal critic of the geese because her dog, Aggie, seemed to inspire the most aggressive behaviour in the birds.

So, this year, undeterred by their previous failure, they returned to their perch behind Brenda’s houseboat – but were immediately chased away by a Caroline determined this time to avoid further inter-species conflict. “If she dares lay an egg,” she declared, “I will kick it into the lake.” This, of course, is illegal – but Caroline seemed committed to drastic action.

But the geese, determined as only Canadians intent on their goal can be, then explored the possibility of nesting behind Chris’s houseboat, our most immediate neighbour. The back of our houseboat butts up against the back of his, only the pontoon separating us from him. Caroline happened to be away, and Brenda, who is as soft-hearted as Caroline is protective of Aggie, offered the geese a great bundle of shredded paper as nesting material. The moment we turned our backs on the birds, the goose stole most of our hyacinth bulbs from a nearby flowerpot to add to the paper and laid the first of what in the end would be six eggs.

Caroline was irate when she returned and discovered that her neighbours had lent both their active and passive assistance to the geese.

The weeks passed. And then arrived the glorious day when Brenda announced that she’d spotted the first chicks out of their eggs. Passing the nest, on which the female continued to sit, presumably to hatch the last of her clutch, we too caught glimpses of the chicks. Happiness abounded on the pontoon. (Caroline had gone to Morocco for two weeks, so wasn’t around to cast a more critical eye on proceedings.)

And then this morning, I woke to a series of the most mournful cries. You must understand that sharing a lake with a squadron of Canada geese we’re accustomed to loud and prolonged honks that echo across the water, sometimes late into the night.

So we paid little attention to the ruckus outside.

I spent a few extra minutes in bed reading the news. I chanced upon an opinion piece by Daniel Barenboim, the celebrated pianist and conductor. His essay was headlined, What Beethoven’s Ninth Teaches Us. While I began reading it, I heard the front door open and close, and voices outside. Trish catching up with our neighbours I thought, and read on: Beethoven, Barenboim wrote, was no political activist, although he was intensely political in a much broader sense – more committed to humanity at large, than any sectarian ideology.

I registered the front door opening. Trish returned to the bedroom.

“The goslings have gone missing,” she said.

“What? But they’ve only just hatched,” I said, looking up over my phone on the screen of which I was reading Barenboim.

“The parents are looking for them. They’re upset.”

A few minutes later, brewing coffee in the kitchen, I could hear the same dismal cries rising into the air. The two geese were circling the houseboats, peering under the decks, crying continuously. I watched them for a minute through the kitchen window. Poor things.

We speculated about the fate of the goslings. “Could be the otters,” Trish said. A family of otters have taken up residence beneath Caroline’s houseboat.

“Do otters eat chicks?” I asked. Google seemed to suggest not. “Could be the pike.” An enormous pike lives in our lake. We’ve spotted it passing ominously between the water lilies outside.

“Or the mink. Haven’t seen him for a while.”

Of course, we’ll never know.

I instructed Spotify to play one of the many versions available of the Ninth Symphony. It’s still playing as I write this.

Barenboim wrote that “The greatness of music, and the Ninth Symphony, lies in the richness of its contrasts. Music never just laughs or cries; it always laughs and cries at the same time.”

I loved that last line. Music laughs and cries at the same time. Listening to our geese lament the loss of their chicks – their wails just audible beneath the sublime strains of the Ninth – I thought, yes, that’s what writers strive for, too. To establish the tension between contradictions, between life and death, between victory and defeat, between celebration and loss, between hope and despair.

I suppose there’s another issue involved in the drama playing out on the water: that human beings have an extraordinary capacity to feel the pain and to share the loss of creatures who are, after all, separated from us by literally hundreds of millions of years of evolution. It is the essential capacity that we bring to writing.

Happy writing,
Richard

P.S. Late news flash: the chicks have been found! The parents discovered them lurking under the pontoon where they must have taken cover. Now all they have to do is evade the otters, the mink and the pike.

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