Thursday March 18, 2021
I remember one of life’s sensory pleasures, walking barefoot on the mudflats at Hopewell Rocks Park at the top of the Bay of Fundy, feeling the sun-warmed red mud squishing up between my toes.
It was almost sacramental -- like having my feet gently massaged by Jesus’ hands in the Upper Room.
It’s much less pleasant when the stuff squishing between one’s toes is goose poop.
Unfortunately, poop is what Canada Geese are best known for.
They be-fowl (pun, sorry) parks and golf courses and beaches with little pretzels of gray-green excrement.
It’s actually quite good fertilizer – chemically, 2-4-2 – but it’s almost impossible to walk through goose-populated areas like Vancouver’s Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park without getting some on your shoes.
As a result, Canada Geese have become undesirable.
Having realized they have little to fear from human presence, and much to gain from human food waste, many geese no longer migrate south. They’ve become permanent residents.
The city of Vernon decided to cull its resident geese. Kelowna and Vancouver prefer to addle goose eggs, shaking the eggs to kill the unhatched goslings within. Much like aborting a human fetus, I suppose.
U.S. cities have rounded up excess migrants and euthanized them – typically, by asphyxiation with automotive exhaust. The same method, it occurs to me now, that Robert Latimer used to end his daughter Tracy’s life, for which he received a ten-year prison sentence.
I’m almost surprised that the Trump administration didn’t slap a punitive tariff on migratory Canada Geese.
The good side of geese
And yet Canada Geese have a number of admirable characteristics that we humans might emulate.
They are monogamous, for example. They mate for life. If one dies, the other may seek a new mate. Otherwise, they are totally faithful to each other.
When flying in that famous V-formation, they take turns providing leadership.
They share household duties. Both parents feed their young. Both guard the nest. Both will vigorously defend their offspring against any perceived threat.
One time, leading a group of Scouts through a marsh, our group came too close to a nest. A black-and-grey apparition exploded from the reeds. It rushed at us, neck extended, hissing, beak snapping, six-foot wings flapping, ready to beat us to a pulp.
When Hiram Walker ran a distillery here in Lake Country, they used guard geese, not guard dogs. Personally, I think I’d rather face a snarling dog. At least it can only attack at ground level.
I suspect that even a bear would back away from a gaggle of geese all attacking at once.
I remember being in Hazelton, in northern B.C., one spring when migrating geese returned to their summer breeding grounds. I could hear the geese, long before I could see them – a cacophony of squawks blending together into a single unbroken tone.
And then they came over the height of Rocher de Boule, the massive rock mountain that dominates the Skeena valley. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them. They spread across the sky like nodes in a net.
I held my breath in awe.
And I rejoiced. In what, for what, I don’t know. Perhaps just being Canadian.
My soul lifted towards them, with them. The geese had come home.
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First, the lighter note. Ken Nicholls is building a whole theology around his socks: “I am rather heavy handed and manage to jab a hole in a sock and it has to be discarded. What happens to its partner? Is it depressed because people only think in two's? Does it simply languish at the bottom of the sock drawer and get ignored? By matching up socks as I do, you offer some form of help and support and give the knowledge that they still have a role to play and are still of value in God's eyes.
“Many congregations will have a number of people, often elderly, who are widowed for example, and find the loneliness difficult. Certainly this is what I felt when my wife died some years ago. Fortunately I had a wonderful congregation.
“I commend the idea of thinking about how many people there are around who feel like discarded socks!”
Now to my column last week, about having to re-think Joan’s wishes in her memorial service. Tom Watson responded, “The senses of Joan's presence are very real. Not real in a concrete sense but real in a ‘connection that not even death takes away’ sense. Janice has been gone for almost 3 1/2 years but whenever I change anything in the home I still consult her. We don't live with someone for 57 years without something of them seeping into every pore of our being. And countless times I have retaken the ride with her on the medical transport van that took her to hospice care, and listened once again to her question, ‘I wonder how fast these things go?’ She wasn't referring to the speed of the van.”
Sandy Warren: “You've articulated so well the strange disorientation that comes with grief. Despite the trials of these times, I hope that Joan's memorial service will feel like a beautiful tribute to her [JT: It did.], even if it doesn't exactly match her plan.”
Old friend Ray Shaver also shared his experience: “Your ‘memorial’ writing inspired me to comment. Queenie, the beautiful love of my life for many more than the 61 years we were married, died just over eight years ago. Her wonderful, loving influence on my life and the rich happiness we shared, even during her 16 years of illness, lives on with me every. Those memories continue to have a guiding happy influence on my present life of a rich love with another woman, who, even though she will never take Queenie’s place, she has, in this very different time of my life, awakened what it’s like to share a close life of love together, even though we live floors apart in the same condo building. And I know that she has similar feelings about her husband who died some 15 years ago. We have learned that happiness can continue even after a profound loss of happiness.”
Jim Henderschedt wrote, “Plans are wonderful and necessary with enough room to edit as circumstances allow. Betty and I have our desires worked out with the understanding that in the end the survivor must make decisions they too can live with, therefore plans may be different...and that's ok.
“The gift I received from my friend, mentor and spiritual guide Fr. Ed Hays is this....I am not a physical being that has a soul. I am a soul that has a physical form that will someday no longer sustain physical life.”
Referring to my feeling of Joan in the bed at night: “And how wonderful that you did not open your eyes. Sometimes it is best to know by not knowing.”
“Well, Jim, are we bodies with souls or souls with bodies?” Randy Hall asked. “I had a spiritual experience while taking Clinical Pastoral Education. I was given the opportunity to observe an autopsy. It was very hard at first. The body before us was a 24-year-old man. My age. He had died of brain cancer. As they began the autopsy it seemed like the doctors were injuring him. But I was able to reason that there was no longer a ‘him.’ Whatever was ‘him’ -- his personality, his love, his shortcomings and strengths -- was no longer there. What remained was human tissue. What happened to ‘him?’
“Humans have grappled with that question from prehistory until just a moment ago. Humans like you, like me. Pie in the sky when we die? Nothing after our last breath? Only God knows and I'm putting my eggs in that basket.”
Jane Wallbrown agreed that “Frequently after the death of a very loved one, there is a return of their ‘spirit’ or whatever anyone might call it. You felt Joan get out of bed.
“Over my many years of counseling when people shared what they wouldn't share with anyone else outside the confidentiality of that relationship, I heard many such stories. It was always an experience that was most meaningful to the person left behind. It gave them solace. Many had the loved one appearing at the foot of their bed helping them solve a troubling problem.”
Jane shared her own encounter with her mother, but it felt too personal to print.
Judith Fetter: “My husband died in 2006, yet sometimes I still wake up and think he’s in the bed beside me. And he’s in my head a lot too, reminding me of silly things he said, or giving me good advice. Is there a difference between those two things?”
Bob Rollwagen offered some memorable lines: “Is there sound in a forest from a falling tree if there is no one there to hear it? Science says there is.
“Is there community if you are the only person in the room? If you are part of a community, you don’t have to be surrounded by it to know you are part of it.
“When you develop a life relationship with another person that includes mutual support and understanding, fulfilling their needs comes by instinct. We prepare the morning coffee in anticipation of appreciation and presence.
I understand one’s soul to be that embodiment of self that is shared without language, by unseen deeds that require community to have understanding. The body is self, soul is the existence beyond the body, held in the community forever in many large and small ways.
“Memory is joy of the soul.”
In spring, when the frost came out the ground and turned our back yard into gooey mud, our children came in filthy and half frozen. We popped them into a tub full of hot water, and washed them pink and clean again. That gives me the metaphor for this paraphrase of Psalm 51:1-12
1 Scrub me clean, Lord.
Rub me down gently; By your touch, show how much you love me;
Flush away my failures;
2 Sponge away the stains of constant compromise;
Help me clean up my act.
3 You don't have to tell me -- I know too well what I have been doing.
4 I know I have let you down; I have betrayed your trust in me.
You warned me; you have every right to be angry.
Don't blame yourself because I blew it;
5 I was born this way.
How can I help it; I'm only human.
6 So wash out my mouth, and rinse out my heart.
New life starts on the inside, with knowing myself.
7 Scrub my spirit clean, and swirl my soiled nature down the drain;
Let me step out fresh and sparkling.
Mend my fractured spirits;
Turn a blind eye to my faults, and cherish the scars where I have fallen down.
10 A fresh start begins with a pure heart, O God,
So let me share your spirit.
11 I do not want to be cut off from you;
I do not want to live without you.
12 Take me back into your good graces.
Help me, for I really want to please you.
You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalmsavailable from Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)