The geese at the lake are aggressive at this time of year. They hiss and squawk at the dog and me when we run by in the morning, warning us not to come any closer. Downy little goslings toddle in line behind their fearful mamas.
A June Friday night calls us to the lake on our bikes, three in a row. Will rides the funny swing bike he just found on Craigslist, the one Ezra giggles at and calls the wiggly bike. Ezra just proudly sized up to his Big Bike, 16 inches of rolling speed demon, and I ride the beach cruiser gifted to me last year. Every time I ride it - often this time of year - I think of Jackie in her new life on the West coast, and Dylan, gone too soon.
Freedom hangs in the lake air on Friday evening. No cars to avoid on the bike path. The smoke from the nearby wildfires has cleared in the summer breeze. Swings that go higher on demand, 'til your stomach drops out, your hair blows back, and you squeal. The weight of another week lifts away in the clear golden light.
On the ride home toward dinner and a date with the DVD player we stop under a tree. I notice first the several geese nervously shifting their weight back and forth, huddling near their goslings. One goose honks plaintively, hovering over a baby convulsing on the ground. Will and I urge Ezra onward, but he can't be pulled away.
Ez, let's go!
I don't want to get a first-hand look at life and death on Friday night at the park, but I guess that's what's happening. I park my bike and go crouch by him. From here I can see the baby gosling's intestines in the dirt, the plaintive mother goose and the baby's last twitches.
Why does that baby have a hole in him? Ezra wants to know.
I think an animal got his mouth on him, I say, probably a dog. You know how animals have predators? Well I think one hurt that baby goose.
The mama goose honks and squawks.
Why is that big bird doing that?
That's the mama and she's so sad because her baby got hurt, I say and the baby's twitching slows. That's what mamas do. If you ever got hurt I would cry and cry and I wouldn't be able to go on, I add, before realizing I don't want him to identify too closely with the disemboweled chick. But I won't let anything happen to you. I silently pray that this is true. Let's extend for a while longer the fiction that mamas have the power to protect our children from pain.
Isn't there a doctor that can fix the hole in him?
Ummm, I don't know of any goose doctor.
Why can't Daddy fix him?
Daddy's really good at a lot of things, but I don't think he knows how to fix that goose, I say.
The goose is still.
Ezra is quiet for a minute and then asks, When it dies, is it dead forever?
Because that's how it works when you die, I say, wondering if this is really true. I am mystified by this last breath, this single moment that is the fulcrum between being and no longer being, the tipping point from which there is no return. You can be so alive and then... not, with barely a warning.
Sit down, my friend Chuck said when he called me four years ago. Dylan died last night. And suddenly I couldn't breathe.
My brother's friend went dirt biking in the desert last weekend and never came home. Search crews found his bike, wrecked, and followed his footprints for a mile. They found his body lying peacefully, hand on his heart, his brilliant blue eyes open to the vast sky. He was so alive, and then he wasn't, his last breath scoured by the hot desert winds.
Ezra watches the still bird at the foot of the tree carefully. The honking has died down too.
Do you want to say a little blessing for him?
We are both puzzled about how this works, but I try.
Great Spirit, I offer, please help guide this baby goose through the transition. Please help him find a place with lots of water and no dogs and no pain, forever.
Somehow it is enough for Ezra and we get back on our bikes. The evening caresses us on the rest of the ride home. It is the perfect night to be alive.