I love my goose. Truth. One of many unexpected truths. Ten years ago, if someone had written out, “Jessica’s Truths”, I would have politely looked the list over, tossed my highlighted blond curls over my slight shoulder, giggled in their face and waved them off. Assured they had the wrong gal. Truth, happiness, and fulfillment often come for me when I’m looking in all the wrong places.
Historically, personal life lessons don’t come without a fight. I usually hold out my assent entirely too long, refusing to surrender until life has beaten the truth into me. Not because of my lack of attentiveness with a tendency towards wavering curiosity, but rather because of a formidable stubbornness. My internal locust of control has always been on the strong side, unfamiliar with submission. Instead, I’m really good at, ‘I got this’. I am on MY path. Hold my beer, stand back, and watch me fight. Watch as Life continues to serve me up a familiar feast — a hard to swallow truth that the best things often come when you give up the illusion of control.
For many of us, the idea of taking the back seat is damn near impossible. Living in the drivers seat is often our last hope as we speed deeper into the crumbling reality all around us. At times I have been so broken, drowning in the consequence of a meticulously controlled poor choice, that I had no fight left to give. Eventually, I would run out of gas before I had ever touched the brakes. Whatever God, Devine Creator, Mother Earth, Allah, Universal Energy… I give the fuck up. A clichéd Jesus take the wheel, someone please step in and make better decisions for me, starting with which brand of toilet paper to buy.
Indistinct from others’ path in life, my road has left behind stories. Stories, I am told, some enjoy reading. Stories laced with self-deprecation and layered with initially hidden humor. Ironically, for most of my life I would have dissected each and every individual response. I would have ruminated whether you were laughing with me or at me. Thankfully, this is not the case anymore. At least not on my good days. Laugh away: at me, with me, for me. Give me what you’ve got. My small snippet of reflection will take all of it, with the simple hope that you will take something in turn.
The first half of this story is one of love. A story of the love I have for a goose. The same goose I begged my husband to either kill or re-home for months upon months. How a goose went from my feathered nemesis to my friend and protector in one afternoon. The second part of this story is a juxtaposition of the first. The second story is one of anger and fear. It’s a painful thing to admit, a complete disclosure of my dark side. A tale of the time my anger and fear overpowered all rational thought and control. Less than a year ago, in a fit of rage, I was moments away from murdering a 45 pound Tom Turkey, strangling him in cold blood.
My family’s recollections of the exact events differ. The tale comes in two versions, both begin on my first trip to a petting zoo when I was 2 years old. As my parents pushed me around in my stroller, exposing my growing brain to new experiences and novel beings, an animal walked up to my stroller and straight up jacked my bottle of apple juice. They took it right out of my tiny chubby hands. In one version of the story, the thief is a goat, in the other, a goose. It was also the early 80’s, so stop judging my parents for filling my bottle with teeth rotting apple juice.
With the gift of hindsight and a recent intimacy with goats and geese, the perpetrator was most likely a goat. However, my early memories, along with the visceral fear and scorn I have for the species, leads me to believe it was a goose. The goose stole my bottle. The goose ignited my rage.
My mother recounts the vignette as her first encounter with the untempered tenacity of her first born. I admit, there is a deep seeded anger that has always resided in me. Luckily, this side of me is rarely indulged. With each year, I develop a greater control of the beast. We are beginning to have a mutual respect for one another, a cooperative effort to strongly live a loving and honest life. An agreement on the intention to leave a space better than it was upon arrival. This agreement has come with time, tears, and numerous missteps. Most people would describe me as friendly, empathetic, easygoing. Ask my Mom, she will tell you, “Jessica is such a nice person… until she’s not”. She recounts this story as the first time she witnessed the darkness I am capable of. Ask her and she will tell you a tale of the cataclysmic rage that emanated from my tiny body, the death wish I had on my face for that criminal goose. Of my self-imposed mission, whatever it would take, at all cost, regardless of the causalities, to get back my damn bottle of apple juice.
35 years after that first encounter, I agreed to, encouraged even, the addition of an entire flock of geese to our farm’s roster.
Why? Geese are mean. Geese are mean and loud and territorial. I was on the fourth batch of chickens I had raised from birth to maturity. I anticipated the peeping box of puffballs arrival at the local post office. I would pick them up; hoping they all survived the trip, recovering the weak ones with sugar water and extra attention. In the weeks following I would pick off the poop that clung to their fuzzy butts. I talked to them and carried my favorites around in the front pocket of my hooded sweatshirt. I fed them a balanced diet of chick scratch, diced veggies, and earthworms from the garden. I added a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to their water because I read somewhere it boosted immunity. I would love them and help them grow; rewarded by a promise of farm fresh egg for my family, after 6 months of daily attention and devotion.
Then, I would lose them. All of them. One by one at first, other times a half dozen would be lost in an overnight massacre. I was tired of raising free range, well loved, and individually named chickens to a seedy dinner buffet, the patrons, a local pack of coyotes. The pack was relentless. They silently dug under the fence in the dark of night. Other times, they killed in full daylight. One afternoon, I caught a particularly large coyote in the coop, enjoying an afternoon snack of chicken. I ran towards him, shouting threats of disease and pestilence, waving my arms above my head. From a sitting position he leapt, easily clearing a 6-foot fence. Looking like a dire wolf, he calmly retreated back into the forest.
Our dogs, the most obvious solution, were of little help. They reliably slept through the feasts, just on the other side of our property, tucked away warm in the garage or under a piñon, in a deep sleep of oblivion. We reinforced the chicken run fencing and posts. We tried to stay one step ahead, only to find out the coyotes had figured out how to nuzzle open the latch and were letting themselves in through the front gate. I spent hours searching the internet, looking for answers. Searching, “how to deter coyotes”. The result was a death count of chickens nearing the triple digits, a fence lined top and bottom with barbed wire and gaudy solar powered Christmas lights that blinked year round, and a dozen fuzzy wind socks of dollar store tinsel, blowing in the breeze. As a last ditch effort, I secured dozens of felt wicks every 10 feet around the coop’s perimeter fence. I saturated them weekly, soaked them every 7 days in genuine wolf piss, expensively auto shipped bi-monthly to the front gate a la Amazon Prime. My chicken coop had become a weird cinematic mix of an old Western, a Hallmark Christmas comedy, and a smut film — “Butch Grizwald and the Golden Shower Kid”. Sadly, the coyotes around here are apparently into that sort of thing. Creepers.
In the hours of internet searching, I noticed several hobby farm and home steading bloggers swore by the power of the goose. They were hailed as protectors of the chicken realm. I was truly at my wits end. Geese are mean and scary, and I was down for whatever.
I called the 8 of them the Chinese Mafia. The majority were Brown Chinese Geese. Dark brown to light tan feathers, long graceful necks, a bulbous top bill protrusion crested between their eyes. It was quite the site. Drive up the ¼ mile dirt road, which alone is not for the faint of heart or cars without a decent clearance, only to be greeted by a brassy chorus line of fowl. Honk honk honk. Flap Flap Flap.
The Chines Mafia settled into farm life and kept to themselves. They stayed on my good side, well away from humans. They were a true gaggle of geese, hysterical to watch. They had a strict hierarchy, loud opinions, and spent the daylight hours comically patrolling the property. It was a roaming herd of neurotically vivacious burglar alarms. Make noise they certainly did. Keep away the coyotes they did not.
Sadly, not long after they arrived the coyotes started up again. The Chinese Mafia dwindled in numbers while the coyotes dined like kings. Of the 8 original members only one survived. Ironically, she was the underdog of the group. She was not even the same breed as her gangs’ namesake. She was French, a slow and stocky Toulouse Goose. She looked as if she had waddled off the page of Mother Goose and into our front yard. In the group hierarchy she was the runt, the lowest rung on the totem pole. She had been the last to eat and the first one to be pushed out of the way. She was the follower, the grunt, the proverbial B.
Before you start to feel too sorry for her, I do believe the maltreatment she received is the sole reason she is still with us. As her aggressors were picked off one by one, she survived. The abusive extortion galvanized her, she was left her with an inextinguishable desire to persevere. Her life was filled with dreams of revenge, driven by pure fucking anger.
On the morning I discovered the final victim of the mafia murders she was in the chicken run, her dead, half-eaten comrade lay at her side. The French Toulouse Goose, stood proud with her chest puffed out, every single one of her feathers in place. Not because she ran and hid. She had been in the middle of the fray. A large tuft of coyote fur stuck out from the corner of her orange beak. ‘Don’t tell me to eat cake’, cried her beady eyes. She had survived a revolution.
I myself had a newfound respect for this goose. How could I not respect such resolute belief in a cause? I began to foster feelings of liberty, equality, fraternity. Unfortunately, this respect was in no way reciprocated. Neither vanquishing the coyotes nor humming Marseillaise during morning chores appeased her wrath. Her anger simply found a new target. I became her Antoinette. Her rage was displaced, onto me.
Being attacked by a goose is absolutely terrifying. Geese can expand their wings horizontally to an imposing diameter, more than double their height. With outstretched wings they beat the air with enough speed and strength to create thunderous waves of sound. Thump. Thump. Thump. It sounds of war drums. Their feet are orange reptilian webbing stretched between toes, vestiges from the time of dinosaurs, each digit terminates in an evolved raptor claw. Geese hiss, rather spit primeval warnings, hithhh, a serpentine tongue protruding from their beak. They do not have what I would call teeth. Rather, the inside of the bill has a minuscule serrated edge, imperceptible to the naked eye. A snapping triangle trap of steak knives. Geese are scary creatures. Especially when they bite.
After the initial bite, the real destruction comes. With a quick jerk of their long neck they twist the trapped flesh nearly 360 degrees. First a pinch, then a squeeze, finished off by a deadly twist; and it happens lightning fast. Should you find yourself on the receiving end and reflexively move away from the source of pain, as any neurologically intact person would, the assault becomes 10 times more damaging and 100 times more painful. Essentially, it’s an epic titty-twister from your obnoxious big brother, after he has lunged towards you, making maniacal sounds, armed with grandpas rusty pliers.
We had one goose left, she had survived a recent societal upheaval, and I was her new nemesis. She could smell my fear.
My husband, on the other hand, was a muse. She would lovingly rub figure eights around his legs the mornings he went out to feed. She made noises, but never hissed at him; instead she honked excitedly, wiggled her butt, and shook her tail feathers. Literally shook her butt feathers as a greeting. This simple act reframed a lifetime of music for me. Did Nelly realize he was rapping about a damn goose? Does Puffy know? Ray Charles would have seen that, right? The Blues Brothers?
That single goose gave my husband more appreciation and affection than all three of his beloved dogs. Understandably, he was hesitant to get rid of her.
“She needs to go!” I told him. “I’m living my own personal episode of Fear Factor just getting from the house to the car in the mornings.” We tried keeping the goose in the chicken run, but the more we restricted her movement the angrier with me she became. Locked in the run for a few days, all would seem well, until she would unknowingly escape, only to jump out from behind a tree, coming at me, full speed. Hissing and chasing, pinching and twisting. She needed a new home. I was drawing the line. I was done. Done and done.
With a final retort, my husband convinced me to try one more thing. He swore up and down that he could teach me how to be her friend. Yes, her friend. I laughed him off. Only after he framed it as a marital challenge and placed his bet on the table, did I accept. My motivation to prove him completely wrong was strong. I was certain I would never win with the goose but I knew I could win with him. The goose and my history was already written. I knew how this would end.
There was a good deal preparation on my part before I jumped in. An outfit, or costume rather: canvas bib overalls, Hunter boots, Carhart jacket, and leather gloves. I stopped short of dusting off my full-face motorcycle helmet, but you bet your goose-pinched-ass, I seriously considered it. It was the middle of summer and there I was, dressed in a bizarre incarnation of garb similar to what is used to train police attack dogs, I stood gilded in my very own goose bite suit. In full kit, I walked through the kitchen towards the back door, briefly stopping for a swallow of courage from a bottle of whiskey. I went outside to face what I was certain would be a painful demise encircled by a trivial silver lining, a marital bet won.
“It’s easy. You just have to show her who’s the boss.” He said. “She knows you’re scared of her. So don’t be. Show her you’re not scared.” It was advice straight from the pages of some archetypal bullshit self help book, “Believe it and it will be”. Thankfully the rest of my husband’s advice was applicably concrete.
“Grab her by the neck with one hand and hold her beak shut with the other. Now hold her neck right below her head, so she can’t turn back on you to bite. Ok, good. Now show her you’re boss. Nothing too rough, but lead her around a bit. Make her walk where you want to. Now take your other hand and put pressure on her back. Make her lay down, rest on her belly. Good, now pick her up. Keep one hand around her neck and use the other arm to hold down her wings. Nice, now pick her up and walk around with her. Set her down, shake your butt and honk back.”
Yes, I grabbed that goose. I shook my ass. I honked back. I’ll spare you the play by play and profanities of the afternoon. The above is paraphrased from my personal step-by-step guide, How to Make Geese Friends and Influence Farm Fowl. Making friends with and gaining respect from a goose definitely does not happen within the space of one simple paragraph. I squealed and ran away in fear, multiple times. I called for an embarrassing number of time-outs. I cried a few tears of fear. I cried more than a few tears of pain when she got a good one on the inside my left wrist between my glove and jacket. But, at the end of it all, all-be-damned. It worked.
I showed her who had control, who was the boss, and somehow, I gained her respect and affection, all in one downright horrifying and weirdly productive afternoon. Some creatures just like it rough, I guess. Who am I to judge what kink she may be into. Maybe she liked giving up control and just wanted me to take the proverbial reigns for an hour or two. Pick her up, hold her down, cover her mouth, and push her around a bit. Kind of weird and out of my comfort zone, but since that summer afternoon, the goose hasn’t shown me an ounce of anger or wrath. Dare I say, the love she has for me exceeds the love she has for my husband. She has nothing but love for me. Nothing but love. Shake your tail feathers, Lil’ G, ’cause Mama is the boss.
Two years later, Lil’ G is the first to greet me in the predawn hours when I leave for work. I hear her ‘Honk Honk Honk’ over the rustle of her shaking feathers before my horse can get out a loving good morning ‘neigh’. If I crouch down on the ground to greet her she climbs up into my lap. I pick up her 20 pounds of feathers and sass and we stroll around the yard. She will go for short runs with me up and down the driveway. We share apples. I fill up two kiddy pools in the summer, one for my kids and one for Lil’ G. I love that goose. I cannot thank my husband enough for not rehoming her or letting me eat her for Christmas dinner. I can now admit all my prior ill will for the creature without shame. Prior to our reckoning, I’m fairly certain she had wished the same for me.
My tail of poultry trouble does not end there. Last summer we added turkeys to our farm, two females and one Tom. They assimilated nicely. No problem, until there was a big one. The only explanation I had for Tom’s sudden change in attitude was the season. It is the only way I can explain why 9 months of complete apathy towards me morphed, seemingly overnight, into extreme hostility. Spring was coming, along with its promise of warmer weather, flowers, and baby turkey making. My loving coos and back scratches of affection no longer looked platonic. I was testing the borders. Come spring he thought I was moving in on his ladies. Come spring, I was the competition.
Geese were, in my honest opinion, the most terrifying of all fowl. That is until I was attacked by a 45 pound Tom Turkey. Male turkeys are not just pomp and feathers. Tom’s have 1 ½ inch long talons, spurs is the proper term, protruding from the back of their legs. And they have weight to throw those daggers around with. Furthermore, in addition to the renowned gobble, they can produce a cacophony of sounds. The strangest to me is the drumming sound. It comes from an air sack deep inside their puffed up chest. It’s an eerily low rumble punctuated with a sharp staccato spit. The closest thing I can compare it to be the loving content sound of a purring cat, peppered in contrast by the angriest hiss they can generate. The turkey purr-spit is disconcerting, a rapid cycle from one extreme to another. The noise has two translations; the first being a pickup line when courting ladies, the second is a war cry. It’s the sound they make just before they attack another male turkey. It’s as disconcerting and confusing as it sounds. Come spring, Tom spoke his message to me often, and it certainly wasn’t a pick up line. Thankfully, I had my trusty Lil’ G. “Gannnso!!!” I would yell when I felt a pending attack. It would usually happen when I was feeding the flock or gathering eggs. I could sense his presence, his strutting and preening, the pacing and pawing at the dirt. The low rumble would emanate from his chest. “Gannnso!!!” I would call out. Honk Honk Honk. Thump Thump Thump, she would come to my rescue, her wings outstretched, and put herself between Tom and me. She would chase him away, pulling out tufts of turkey feathers if his retreat wasn’t quick enough. She was not just my friend she was my protector.
The threats continued through the spring and into the summer. I had hoped it was a seasonal fever and with time he would get the hint that I was not trying to take his ladies. No luck. His anger and aggression towards me only grew. He could smell my fear.
The kids were in their beds napping. Our youngest was one year old and the twins four. It was the rare and glorious occasion I got them all down for a nap at the same time. I hooked the baby monitor to the waist of my jeans and went outside to get some chores done. The coop needed cleaning. I had let the flock free range on the property that day and was by myself in the run, raking up old shavings and shoveling poop into the compost pile. I cleaned out Lil G’s pool and filled it with fresh water.
He came at me unannounced; it was an ambush, a total cheap shot. I felt a sharp pain in my right calf. I looked down and saw a rip in my jeans, the cut extended into the flesh beneath. A thin rivulet of blood ran down my leg and into my boots. I turned around, rake in hand, to face my attacker. It was Tom. That jerk had come at me without warning and was about to come for more.
“Gannnso!” I called. “GANNNSO!” My protector was out of earshot, enjoying her R&R on the other side of the property.
He came at me again, this time he was completely airborne. His sharp claws thrust forward. I imagined it was a similar view to what a field mouse sees in the moments before he’s snatched up by a hawk. I tightened my grip on the wooden handle of my rake and blocked his attack, an improvisational and ghoulish game of turkey bunting. I knew all it would take was a small amount of offense on my part; one good smack and he would be done for. But what if I missed? I could justify one smack out of self-defense, but what if it didn’t end there? One smack would probably only hurt him and I would have to finish the job off with a few more. I may have been backed in a corner of the chicken run by a zealous Tom turkey, and yes, i was considering my options, but I was not the type to bludgeon an animal, even one that had just drawn blood and continued to attack. I simply couldn’t do it. It wasn’t in me.
And then it hit me — It’s just like the goose.
“Why hadn’t I thought of this before?!? I’ll show this Tom turkey who’s boss and end this seasonal feud once and for all. No only will he stop fighting me, he will like me. He might even learn to love me!” I thought. I pictured the three of us strolling down the driveway to open the front gate for arriving guests. Lil’ G on my right and Mr. T on my left — Roll up! This life couldn’t get any more Gangster. Damn it feels good to be a Farmer.
I crouched down into position just like I had the summer prior. Both of my arms outstretched, one hand in front of the other. “You got this,” I told myself. I tried to talk down my growing doubt; my fear heightened by my lack of protective clothing and preparation. He lunged at me again, this time I caught him by the neck. He fought back with a weight and strength that surprised me. There is a big difference in the fight of a 20-pound goose and the fight of a 45-pound turkey.
I would get hold of his neck with my right hand and try to gain control of his body with my left. He revolted. He twisted, wriggled, and pulled away until I lost my grip. We both tumbled backwards in the dirt. Before I could recover and get back up on my feet, there he was, barreling towards me in riposte. Drum Spit Drum Drum Spit. His emotionless eyes, pupils dilated, focused dead ahead. Drum Spit Drum Drum Spit. My husband away, my protector goose not responding to my calls for back up. Drum Spit Drum Drum Spit. This was it. There was no plan B.
I’m not a big girl and this was quickly becoming my first fisticuffs. Of my many poor life choices growing up, fighting was never one of them. In the past I had witnessed the occasional combat safely from the sidelines. I preferred the cheap seats. Even at that, the fights I had seen had been little more than drunken, half-hearted, hair pulling, cat-fights. I had little experience with the act of inflicting physical harm on another. Naively, I had assumed anger was the primary emotional motivator for violence. I was wrong in my assumption. I now know the catalyst of violence is not anger, but fear.
I was trapped, too angry to give up and frankly too scared to run. My leg ached, my sock soaked up the ever-slowing ooze of blood flowing from my open wound. I felt an internal sympathetic dump, time had abruptly slowed down. Suddenly, I was keenly aware of the details. I felt each imperceptible increase in the rate and strength of my heart, beating within my chest. My limbs tingled in anticipation of his next move. It was fight or flight and I was starting to get fucking scared. When I felt he was gaining the advantage I let go of my choke hold and tossed him away from me. The fight increased in ferocity with every point of contact. “He must be a little scared of me by this point,” I thought. Nevertheless, I would toss him back and before he hit the ground, he was ready for more. Each time he came back, more determined, more defiant. Each time he came at me harder than before.
He eventually got close enough to inflict more damage. I felt the hot sting of a claw as it cut the flesh inside my left forearm. With that, something deep within me snapped. I have a temper, one I am familiar with, but this was different. This time I saw red. Complete mind-numbing turkey-hating red. Something switched on inside me; a destruction I didn’t know I possessed. I became someone who, only minutes ago, it was simply not possible for me to be.
I came back to the fight willingly after that, furious, vicious; dust and feathers flying, talons and bleeding limbs flailing. My plan was failing miserably and I was in too deep to rationally back out. My hand around Tom’s neck was the only palpable advantage. I felt my grip tighten, the rings of his trachea opened and closed at my will.
“Who’s the boss now?” I screamed at him, increasingly irrational. I tightening my grip around his bald neck. “Yeah. Tom. What? You can’t make me bleed if you can’t breath.” Once again he slipped out of my hold. My power was momentarily lost; I felt the fear return as the tussle for control followed. “Just give up! You’re not gonna win, Tom. Who’s the boss, you bastard? You think you scare me? You think you can push me around, come at me from behind, cut my leg then my arm with your dirty ass nails. You think you can be a dick to me day-after-day-after-day?” I could feel him gasp, battle for breath, his conduit of life closing off. “Who’s the boss of who, you little shit? Huh? I’m am!” I pushed and pulled his feathered body, jerking him in indiscriminate directions. He started to submit, relinquish the fight for control. “I’m the boss, Tom!” I sensed my impending victory, his body no longer struggled. “Who’s your fucking boss now?” “Who’s the bo…
YOU THE BOSS, MAMA! YOU THE BOSS!!!
The reverie of blind turkey choking rage was brought to a complete halt, cut short by a sweet voice. There was Leo. Up from his nap, the baby monitor facedown in the dirt, unclipped from my jeans during the scuffle. There he was, just outside the coop, my first-born baby boy, standing on top of the feed box. He stood there, as tall as his slight 4 year old frame could, his chubby fingers wrapped through the chicken wire, his cherub face aligned with the fence to optimize his view. He had a ringside seat to his mother’s full-blown maniacal homicidal rage. Mama vs. Tom Turkey — Featherweight Title Fight. There was my biggest fan, cheering me on.
Rational thought painfully crashed back into my consciousness, humbling me with the disturbing truth. I had been moments away from a forever TKO of Tom Turkey. I was terribly close to choking one of our farm animals to death.
I tossed Tom away from me a final time, harder and farther than before, and made a run for the gate. He was dazed, coughing and hacking to breath. Yet he was alive. Still with us, his hatred of me legitimized.
Tom’s end result didn’t change. He ended up in the freezer a few weeks after the fight. He was the beautiful centerpiece of our Thanksgiving feast this year. In hindsight, I am thankful for his life and the unexpected lessons it brought me. I am thankful he shared his healthy and delicious 45 pounds, fortunately untainted by an emotional brine of fear and anger. Ultimately, I am thankful his life was taken quickly, humanely, and not in a fit of anger.
My end result has taken longer to set. It has an unpleasant taste, a hard to swallow reality.
How do I accept the knowledge that I am capable of what was an unimaginable act?
At times, giving up control of my life has resulted in tremendous fulfillment. Submission has brought me otherwise unobtainable realization in life. At other times, giving up control equals impending demise. It can be how the crazy lady chokes you out. One of Life’s grotesquely beautiful dualities. Reflection upon the end result is only possible when given the gift of hindsight. Living a life full of truth and honesty, lovingly making choices, without full knowledge of the chapters or ending. Therein lies the hard part.
Leo and I have had many talks about the importance of being gentle to all creatures. How Mama makes mistakes, sometimes. Why it’s important to think about what emotions we are feeling and to reflect on our choices in hopes of making better ones in the future. We come up with ways to deal with scary feelings like anger and fear, ways that do not include violence against farm animals. I’m not sure if these talks are for the benefit of the child or the parent. With any luck, we will both continue to grow from them.
As someone way smarter than Tom or myself once said, “Know Thy Self”. With a commitment to growth and ongoing goal to do just that; I must admit to something. I am still overcome with proud delight when Leo casually reminds me, “Mama, you’re the boss.”