Elsie and Harry

May 29, 2008 by Ellen Stimson in Living With Intention, Nature, Vermont. New England

The geese are back. The year we first moved here we named them Elsie and Harry. They are back on the pond and this year they have three little goslings. They are a family of five just like us.

There is something particularly poignant about these geese to me now. That first year we were filled with hope at this new adventure. We’d all moved a thousand miles together to live in a beautiful place. The Horrible Quaint Country Store hadn’t happened yet. Our Vermont lives were clean slates. Those early months were like a long sweet vacation. We had company and cooked, and we puttered around decorating the house until we got it just the way we wanted. We spent lots of long evenings out on the porch playing pinochle to the new sounds of owls and rustling in the woods. We didn’t have the chickens yet and we had never homeschooled either. We hadn’t met Jack and Karen or Ellen and Roger. Those friendships with these people I can’t quite remember not knowing, were all still in our future.

I was forty the year we moved. Now I am closing fast on forty-six. Before I came up here I led a brisk life. Truth be told with all the travel and variety of consulting jobs I guess I still do. I am not half as pleased with myself as I was back then. I didn’t know I could fail before we bought the store. Now I know it for sure.

But I have learned too. I know how to go out in the morning, even in summer, wrapped tight in my robe since it is almost always chilly here in the first hours. I know that if I stay still I can tell just what kind of day it is going to be most of the time. The birds are quiet when there are storms coming, noisy when they sense a sunny day. The owls are still mooning around making noise and telling everybody goodnight when the skies will be clear. And the geese are out on the water having a few bugs for breakfast when blue skies are settling in.

I know how to drive on dark roads with only the moon and stars for light. My eyes have adjusted to the clarity of this dark. I carry blankets and lights in winter and tell people which roads I will travel. I know how to raise a baby chicken and I am learning how to plant a garden that will decide our suppers this summer. I can build a fire out of practically anything, and I can tell a fox track from a raccoon’s and know that otter poop is mostly orange.

I live closer to the natural world now. And the thing that strikes me up here this morning as I watch Elsie and Harry is how truly resilient we all are. I don’t know what their lives have been like these past five years. I do know that they keep coming back and raising their family. I don’t know if they lost a house in Florida, or if they were a little hungry one winter like we felt when the store was failing fast. I know that Elsie lost a few feathers this winter and Harry is more solicitous than ever. Their babies are growing fast and spring has been sunny and filled with abundance.

Watching them reminds me that I really don’t understand our soldiers anymore than I understand our leaders. I don’t know what their lives were like before or will be like when they come back home. They didn’t mean to trade a college education for this wretched war with strangers in a foreign land who did not make war on us. And our elected leaders could not possibly have dreamed up so much death and pain when they planned this thing either. They played baseball and fed the ducks when they were little too.

Sometimes things go horribly wrong. And still we hire new people for the jobs and feel hopeful all over again. Or we watch the geese raising their family on the same pond year after year as we watch our own children trip and get back up and thrive and fail. The regressions are apparently necessary to the learning. I surely hope we have all learned something here.

Welcome back Elsie and Harry. Those are some beautiful babies you have there this year. May I feed them a little corn?


  • Molls

    God bless the soldiers. We are all victims, maybe even Bush and company.
    “Regression is necessary for the learning”..God I surely hope so….

  • katiedid

    I am pinning my hopes now on Mister Obama and those baby geese of yours. Lovely as always

  • library lady

    There is a small remnant of a creek a few houses away from mine, and while none of the many, many Canada geese in the area actually live there, they do drop in for visits from time to time. I’ll never forget the sight of my big male cat, Killer, coming face to face with one of them. He’s not the brightest cat I’ve ever known, but he recognized when he was out-classed and walked away intact. I’m sure there’s a parable in that encounter, but I just don’t have the strength of mind to go after it this morning!

  • jamie

    I’m moving from the city to the small town about 15 miles south. Not nearly the move you made with your family, however,I’m thinking it will be good for me for a while. I doubt I’ll see any geese, though. It’s quite a shame.

  • Mighty Morphin' Mama

    Your stories are so vivid and heart-lifting.
    Your geese make me feel hopeful.
    Hope things are well with you, sorry it has been a while since I visited.

  • Casdok

    Very cute babies, hope they like your corn!

  • Kellan

    As usual – this was simply beautiful – it brought tears to my eyes and I always feel like I am right there in Vermont with you – thank you for that!!!!!

    You. Write. Beautifully!!!

    Take care – Kellan

  • Tranny Head

    Wow – I didn’t predict that you were going to the soldier thing when I started reading this post! But it was still a great post.

    My hubby (as you already know) is currently in Iraq. I really wish people would just see in the statistics of people killed/wounded/currently serving that they’re PEOPLE over there. Moms, dads, uncles, brothers, sisters, and daughters. Normal people. My husband is a lawyer in his “real life” and is a reservist. He is the father to our beautiful 10 month old son. Before he left for Iraq, he got up every morning and went to work just like everybody else and then came home at night to spend time with his family. Anyway, the coverage seems to have a sort of dehumanizing effect on all the people who once fed ducks as kids. Plenty of soldiers serving DO support this war, and plenty of them don’t. But they still try to do the best they can with the job that was placed before them. Anyway, my point is that they’re all human beings.

  • E

    Tranny I have never responded to a comment before, but I feel compelled to speak to yours.
    Thank you for it.
    I pray for our soldiers and Iraqis alike. It is hard to hold the shared humanity in our minds. To humanize them all is painful and hard. It is of course also right.

    The questions around this conflict just keep piling up and answers are hard to come by.

    There is an old Unitarian blessing that I will modify here…
    May we all find the right road, and then,
    May we all damn well have the strength to take it….

  • nellie

    This one had a crooked turn that threw me. But in a good way. I I agonize over the obvious need to support the soldiers and the deep critisizms I have of all this blind American loyalty that we are all so susceptible to

  • Tranny Head

    Good blessing!

    And thanks for responding. I just felt compelled to let people know what I said. Like I already said, lots of soldiers fighting support the war, and lots don’t. But all of them are human and doing the best they can. Most of them (save the Abu Ghraib disaster) are trying to help Iraqis as best they can. They’re good people. Anyway, yeah, what I already said . . . hehe

  • Susiewearsthepants

    Truer words have never been spoken. We always are hopeful of the next leader. I love your descriptive writing. In my head, I can see everything you are describing.

  • ILX

    such a thoughtful and insightful series of thoughts. i liked the thoughts on the soldiers; my take on bush & co is that he is a moron mislead by a number of neocon maniacs who should be tried as war criminals. and i just cannot believe they actually lied to their own secretary of state right before he went before the UN…just a bunch of slimy disgusting right wing nutzoids who are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths.

  • Family Adventure

    I love how poignant your posts are. Life’s twists and turns never cease to surprise, do they?


  • Kate

    I like your reflection – e. I’ve been doing some thinking about life lately, too. Where I’ve been, where I’m going, where I am right now. And there’s anchoring points in my life – much like your geese that give me pause to remember. Thanks.

  • TheCynicalOptimist

    Great post!!

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