Armed with a net designed to catch butterflies and used to capture passerines (perching birds) such as sapsuckers, wrens, and warblers, I crept towards the Canada goose at a snail’s pace. Behind me was the box I begged off of the Dick’s Sporting Goods clerk earlier and my gloves, of which the Hotline operator for the day advised me to abandon as they “interfere with the dexterity of the hands.”
I had no experience capturing geese of any sort, especially geese located in the midst of a protective flock, but the day was so busy that there were no other volunteers available to investigate a limping goose. Literally no one else, meaning I was by myself in Centennial Park near the busy Touhy and McCormick Avenue intersection, praying that my movements did not drive any of the dozens of ducks and geese towards the cars racing by alongside the park.
The ubiquitous Canada goose has a 30- to 43-inch body with a wingspan of 4 to 6 feet. At their smallest adult size, they weigh about 7 pounds, and at their largest, about 20 pounds. My mind raced with these facts trying to talk me out of this rescue attempt, yet I knew I could be the difference between this bird living and dying. I had to try. My rather blithe instructions from the operator were to put the net over his head, then throw a towel (or a coat) over him, pinning his wings to his body, and carry him over to the box where I would place him neatly inside and secure the top of the box.
I crept slowly up to him, emboldened by his passive body language seeming to indicate that he tolerated my presence. Unfortunately at the last second, he swung his long, limber neck around to gaze sidelong at me, hissing so briskly I could see his pink tongue. I would have to move quickly.
I leaped forward and brought my butterfly net down firmly on the bird’s head, moving towards him simultaneously with a coat half unfurled and ready to be thrown over his head to subdue him. What I did not count on is the bird’s strength and vigorous survival instinct. He opened his wings and pushed his head forward which yanked the net out of my hands, but not before I was actually pulled forward toward him and down this grassy hill next to the Chicago River.
My left foot stepped in a slick of green goose poop which I had been scrupulously avoiding. My right foot moved to stabilize me in a complementary slick next to it, and before I knew it, I was skiing downhill on bird poop. I landed unceremoniously on my butt. My quarry, in the meantime, shook off the net and limp-waddled indignantly away towards the tiny fishing dock where the other geese hung out. At least a dozen geese started hissing at me and displaying threatening body language. I sat there in shock looking at the goose who looked right back at me defiantly.
The gentlemen who sometimes ask drivers for money at the nearby intersection walked by on the bike path, and started cackling at me.
“Doctor Livingstone, I presume,” said one man, while his friend came over and helped me stand up. My slacks looked like had a terrible accident with oil paints, and my shoes were covered with splatter from my impromptu skiing. My tailbone and my pride smarted. Had the circumstances been different, I might have started to cry, but everything about today suddenly seemed absurd. I had come from a memorial service for a dear friend who passed away a few months ago to this park to rescue an injured goose, all the while still wearing the clothes I had worn to the service. My friends and I had already done our fair share of crying, and at this point, I started to laugh.
“Going jellyfish hunting, My Lord,” I said, giving a deep bow.
I never did get close enough to the limping goose again, and I had to call the Hotline to report my failure. Susan was sympathetic and told me “I’ve only captured geese three or four times in my life, and every time I was shaking – and I had other people with me!” She promised to send some of the experienced team members there tomorrow, telling me that I should take their class in catching flying geese. That’s right: there’s a class.