The goose procession

The closest thing we have to a settled reactionary faction, here in Parkdale, are the Red-Necked Grebes over in the pond precincts of Humber Bay Park. These Podiceps are hard to miss, this time of year, with their fetching black caps, their distinguished grey faces, and their superbly contrasted necks which, locally, are of a rust earth orange that brightens mysteriously in their mating season.

The males make fine brassy lovers; the females are calculating. They share a romantic tendency, however, founded upon domesticities and little Hobbetine in-jokes. There is aerial dancing of the country kind. The mating calls are of a bold parodic nature, often rather as the loons they resemble, but with an unloonish sense of the absurd.

Later, in the wash, the male will take the liberty of approach. He will yank a long token of subaqueous vegetation, glistening with mud, and flaunt it before the female in his flapsome, gregarious way. It is of such material their nests are made (and remade, five or six times a year) so that his “hint” borders on the sniggering and vulgar. The female will look on in amazement, as if she had never seen anything so coarse. But she is secretly winking at comrade, and in time, having let him strut, she will make her own dive, then surface with her own filch of building weed. This is marriage among the grebes. I have yet to observe their annulment process.

Seven million cubic yards of fill went into the making of that park, and not one wasted. It has become a little paradise by the mouth of Mimico Creek, for which I must thank all the commies and eco-freaks embedded at City Hall. They have caused a sewage treatment facility to be installed therewithin, which is itself a wonder of ecological design: successive open tanks on which the sun works, without mediation. In my humble, but insistent opinion, something like this should be part of any municipal garden. Sewage treatment should be a thing of beauty. It is my kind of aerobics, and includes a good use of a disinfecting chlorine, which itself breaks down perfectly in sunlight — unless I am mistaken, for I don’t really understand it at all.

The commies have also created a butterfly habitat, a rolling meadow decorated with restored native wildflowers, grasses, sedges, and shrubs. The city had been running a little short of butterflies, and the variety of them left something to be desired. Our urban birds missed them, too (the crows especially appreciate their crunchiness). Benches, stonewalls, walkways run around and through: one could do the same in a backyard.

Indeed, the apparatchiks of our municipal Kremlin have (at flagrant taxpayer expense) stretched a few hundred miles of nature trails through the city and its magnificent ravines — which I frequent the more because they dip beneath the urban crash of traffic, and offer many stations of tranquil relief. Though let me add the “system” was conceived by the duck-hunting conservationists, in the old, pre-revolutionary days — assisted by Hurricane Hazel in 1954. For she (Hazel) provided a dramatic demonstration of why we should not put suburbs in the floodplains and channels. For the foliage recovers quickly from a flood, but car-driving man is awkward.

Mallards and short-tempered (i.e. nesting) Redwing Blackbirds have been communed with, too, in recent ambles; along with gulls, gulls, gulls. There was a Sandpiper, but he was aloof; I didn’t know what to make of him. Bit of a dandy, I thought. Quizzical.

However, the most forward of our Parkdalian avian displays was observed with coffee early this morning, from the balconata of the High Doganate. This spectacle requires the high-rise angle, and strong binoculars, to fully believe. It is our annual (sometimes semi-annual) Goose Pageant.

Canada Geese from all along Lake Ontario gather for an extended-family outing, arranging themselves in an intricate tweed of chevron patterns, by family within each tribe. There are thousands of them, and they choose a moment as this morning, when Humber Bay is glassy still. The word must get about by the goose Internet. They fly in mostly from the east, and make the circuit of the Bay, a length of several miles. This circuit is performed with graceful elegance, at an altitude of about six feet, so that their numbers seem doubled by their reflections on the water.

Since moving into the High Doganate, I have witnessed this spectacle nearly a dozen times: the circuit of the giant mirror of Humber Bay; and then the re-ascent where the waters roughen, on the outer, far western side. They rise, and then circle back, descending for another turn: always counter-clockwise, and from what I can make out, repeated by each bird until the liquid mirror is disturbed by fresh breezes.

Now, these geese are loud, obnoxious, Tory birds by disposition; not perhaps as rightwing as the grebes, but more forceful in expressing their opinions. You don’t want to argue with a Canada Goose, especially from the Left. I barely get along with them myself, and only because they know I am opposed to “democracy” and “welfare.” That, and they credit me for giving them some space. And while they may not be as vain as the swans, they do appreciate some favourable publicity, and the odd passing prayer.

Why do they gather for this extraordinary pageant, and perform their procession with such solemn, liturgical pomp? I’m sure some Darwinoid will come up with a fatuous evolutionary explanation, but the truth is as I will now impart. It is the grand reunion of Goose Nation, an ordered fly-past of all the tribes, led by their lords in strict precedence. (Followed no doubt by a vast formal feast or picnic at some other location.) It is done in the most exacting idleness, for the pleasure of doing it, well.

“A place for everyone, and everyone in his place.” This is the high principle of avian Torydom, and the geese understand that it is joyful.