The geese are coming! And going. South, it appears, to my absolute dismay. Every single day, in the rising heat of the morning and cool of the evening, they’ve begun to emerge, loud and cantankerous, flying low through the gaps between houses around me. The flocks are small now, hollering at each other as they arrange their own flight patterns to clear themselves for landing on the wide swath of water just beyond my line of vision. I’m not ready to see them. I’m not ready for fall, and cool temperatures, and bare limbs on trees. I feel like summer hasn’t even really started for us, not yet. I don’t want to see the geese. But I have to admit I kind of love them.
My neighborhood was created on a rise of ground that’s nestled in the crook of the creek (say that three times quickly, will you?) that meanders through our valley on its lazy way to meet the Susquehanna River. I’d desperately wanted to buy one of the houses that backed up to the trees that curve over the creek itself (the birds! the water! the peace!), but it turned out that the home that best fit our needs (not to mention our wallet) was the one smack in the middle of the development, with nary a tree at all in the backyard. David said that, for my temperament, it’s probably for the best that we’re clear of the water and woods (the snakes! the bugs! the unfenced drowning hazard!), but as I sit here looking out my back windows (and right at the roof of the house in back of us–sorry, you guys), I have to admit there’s a good dose of “aw, man! We coulda had THAT!” that settles into my veins when I hear those birds descend into the dark foliage that’s thisclose to us–but not close enough.
I’ve been trying (and many times failing) to wake in the wee hours of the morning to get work on the book finished (It’s not like I’m rewriting an epic for the ages, here. It’s just that these last revisions are a long, slow slog–much slower than I’d anticipated). And honestly, I like it. I like seeing the sky lighten slowly over my nook of the creekside land. I love moving around the house, quietly, to fill my coffee cup and give the dog a pat as I walk past him to my computer, just the two of us hanging out at 5:30 on a Wednesday morning. I work in the quiet, and watch the neighbors drive away to their offices, and enjoy these last days of letting the kids sleep in, of not having to rush. I try not to think about what it’s going to be like to have all of them in school one day, when it’s going to be just me and Dave, together in the house, working in separate rooms. Modern life is weird. I never would have thought we’d be here.
The geese remind me of my dad. He loved hearing them, and I, like Dad, make my entire family stop to watch for them when I hear their cacophonous voices ring out over the horizon. They’re just so otherworldly to me, if that doesn’t sound so weird. How they work together, the lead goose drifting to the back of the line when he’s tired. How they sense the upcoming change in seasons and move ahead of time, ahead of danger. How sad I feel when I see a lone one that’s lost its flock, hollering into the open air, hoping to catch up. One day, in the fall of the last year I was teaching, in the last year that my dad was alive, I remember driving to work one cloudless day with the sunroof open on my little red Jetta (black cloth interior, manual transmission, and her name was Betsy), seatbelt awkwardly tucked under my pregnant belly. University of Pennsylvania’s WXPN was on the radio, and over the tones of Wilco or NPR or some other standard public radio morning fare, I heard them–the geese, they were flying above my head, going north for some reason-and I looked up just in time to watch them fly over my car, voices hollering at each other like they were the only creatures who could hear. For some reason, all I felt was joy–the kind of grace you get to experience once in a rare while, the kind of grace that makes you realize, yes, of course heaven is real, and it must feel something like this.
(This was before I was about to walk into a classroom and teach a bunch of sleepy teenagers metaphor at 7:55 in the morning. A little taste of peace was probably medicinal at that point.)
Our kids took their first plane ride this summer. I was 15 when I flew for the first time. Saoirse is six. She was young enough to be impressed, but old enough to ask questions. Once we were home, we were looking at the clouds high above us, and mentioned how cool it was that we were actually above them just a few days earlier. And we talked about something that was always such a neat idea to me: that no matter how rainy the day is, how overcast or threatening the sky looks, just above it, right there, beyond our view, the sky is blue. It is always blue, we talked about. The moisture and turbulence and instability of the weather is so temporary. Always, always, always, the sky itself is blue.
The weather is shifting. The days are getting shorter, and the sounds of the bugs and the birds and the wind blowing through the trees (we do have a couple in our front yard) all sound like late summer: that low, lazy hum of creatures that are tired. The geese, though: the geese are loud, so loud, shouting and hollering and yelling at each other as they flap their strong wings to fly right past the window where I write this, to land on the water briefly to rest and drink. I can’t see them, but I can hear them, and while I close the computer, greet my family, move around the kitchen to pour orange juice and empty the dishwasher and look over the to-do list for the day, they will get the courage to lift off again, to keep flying where their instincts tell them to go, to keep moving forward through a sky that, beyond my view, is always, always, blue.