Circle of life, in a small pond

A few weeks ago, while looking for a spring-time picture I found myself in a nature reality show like the ones on BBC narrated by Sir David Attenborough. Often in those programs there is the scene when the predator chases the prey. I always root for the prey to escape. I know logically that that means that the predator and its family goes hungry, but I just want the happy ending for the little guy to live. It’s the circle of life: happy moments balanced with sad.

I was at an assignment at the Hilton Hotel and I knew there were a couple pairs of Canada geese that live near the ponds along the two blocks at Grand Canal Boulevard and Venezia Boulevard in Stockton.

A family of geese, a mated pair and 4 goslings, were crossing the street. By the time I got out the car with my gear they had headed toward the pond, I got a few frames off and saw that the babies climb through a 4-ft tall wrought iron fence and plop into the pond. The baby geese easily hopped through the vertical fence posts, but the adults couldn’t fit through.

At first the goslings swam around happily. But it was soon evident that the goslings couldn’t get out of the pond. There was a about a foot between the water’s surface and pond’s edge. It was too far for the flightless young birds to clear. The baby geese swam the perimeter of pond peeping plaintively while the adults honked in response.

Small wooden ramps on either side of the pond lead out of the water, but the goslings just kept swimming right passed them. At first I thought it was because the goslings were afraid of the red-eared slider turtles who were sunning themselves on one ramp, but then I could see that the little birds just didn’t get that the ramps were a path to safety.

A shopkeeper came out to see what I was doing. I told him that the goslings seemed to be trapped. He thought it was how the geese parents teach their young how to get out on their own. Sometimes the young geese make it, sometimes they didn’t.

Logically I know I shouldn’t have, but in my head I had already named them. The shopkeeper’s words were ominous and I worried for Huey, Dewey, Louie and Ryan.

I walked along the edge of the pond to encourage them toward the ramps. When I got too close, one of the adult geese hissed menacingly. So I backed off.  A woman passing by saw their distress and tried reaching between the rails to catch them, but they swam beyond her gasp.

After almost an hour, one of the goslings, Huey I think, headed up the empty ramp, but it was too steep and he slipped back into the water. A few minutes later, he found the other ramp and navigated the resting turtles to the safety of his parents and I breathed a sigh of relief

I expected the other goslings to follow their brother’s lead, but they continued to swim around, just as clueless as before.

Huey wandered across the street on to a grassy median. His parents soon followed, leaving the other three in the pond by themselves. I turned my attention away from the pond and followed Huey and his parents.

Just a few minutes later, Huey and his parents returned to pond’s edge. I looked out and could only see Dewey and Louie. Ryan was gone.

Quickly, I looked to each ramp to see if Ryan had made it out. He hadn’t. Then I saw a horrifying sight. Just beneath the surface, a dark, foot-long fish, a catfish maybe, swished its tail as it headed toward the bottom of the pond. Just for a second I could see a tiny pair of webbed feet being dragged down as the monster fish disappeared in the murky depths.

After several long seconds I could breath again. Just like those nature shows. The only thing missing was Sir Attenborough’s voice. My concern for the Dewey and Louie became more acute.

A little later, resident Bill Brownlow rode up on his bike. He said he built the ramps several years ago to make it easier for baby geese to get out. Then he tried without success to scoop up the goslings with his bike helmet.

Not too long after that Dewey found his way up the ramp and to freedom. Only Louie was left swimming alone and peeping. I had other assignments to get to so I had to leave poor Louie, hoping that he would find his own way out of the pond.

The next day, I went back to the pond, worried about what I would find. I was relieved to see the 2 adult geese resting just outside of the pond with 3 goslings. Louie had found his way out somehow and was safe and with his family.

It was a “circle of life” acted out in the little pond. At least for now, the goslings had a happy ending.

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