Column: Geese can learn a lot from otters

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The V of geese came in low over the pond, banked into the wind and settled for a landing. What they didn’t know was, the pond had frozen overnight and was solid ice.

I have to admit, it looked like water: clear, glassy, smooth. The geese arched their wings and extended their feet for a typical Canada goose water ski landing. That’s when everything fell apart. Instead of sinking gracefully into the water, the lead goose touched down and immediately went into a spiral skid. The others, close behind splattered onto the ice one after another in a feathery mess, skidding, spinning helplessly across the ice.

Pilots are taught that when coming in for a landing, it becomes apparent the plane and the runway aren’t lined up exactly right, to ram the throttle forward, declare a missed approach and go around for another try.

To their credit, the last couple of geese in the flight tried to do the exactly that. When they realized something was amiss, they poured on the coals, flapped their wings frantically in a valiant attempt to get back in the air and reconsider their options.

Geese, however, are masters of flying in close formation, with emphasis on the word close. By the time goose number five realized that goose number four was in trouble he was already in full-fledged collision mode with his beak buried deeply into the tail feathers of his wingman.

There was a lot of honking going on too, with everyone blaming everyone else. The poor birds were plainly humiliated by the whole thing, and even when they tried to take off again, they couldn’t gain enough traction with their feet on the ice to get into the air.

One winter, while sitting in a snow bank on the north shore of Lake Superior, I watched a family of otters come down from the woods to fish at the shoreline. They didn’t know the water was frozen either and found themselves skidding in helpless circles on the ice.

But while geese tend to take things way too seriously, otters look at everything as a game. In mere minutes the otters had organized an impromptu hockey game and were soon riding giant slabs of windblown ice across the lake, thoroughly enjoying themselves.

After I stopped laughing, I felt sorry for the embarrassed geese. Frankly, I think the otters have the right idea. They know how to turn misfortune into fun.

A goose could learn a lot from an otter.


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