Konrad Lorenz’s books always have wonderful anecdotes about animals, and On Aggression (1963, tr. Marjorie Latzke) is no exception. One chapter describes habit formation in geese, a greylag goose named Martina in particular, whom Lorenz had reared and who had imprinted on him. Lorenz writes:
In her earliest childhood, Martina had acquired a fixed habit: when she was about a week old I decided to let her walk upstairs to my bedroom instead of carrying her up, as until then had been my custom. Greylag geese resent being touched and it frightens them, so it is better to spare them this indignity if possible.
Pleased by this information, and by how it was phrased, I tweeted it. Later, after sharing another excerpt on geese behaviour, I added a hashtag:
And there the idea would have remained, except that the next book I picked up, Molly Keane’s Loving and Giving, had its own geese tips.
Nicandra has returned as an adult to her childhood home. On her way up the drive she sees, ‘to her dismay and anxiety, her geese heading determinedly for the near woods’. She obstructs their effort with the help of her dogs and a man working on the house, who says to her:
‘I’d say they were looking for water. What I say is: a breeding goose needs water. They passed through myself and the bicycle like a pack of eagles. I said to myself they won’t last long in those woods, I should get them back in the yard, I said, whatever about the work in the house, the fox won’t wait, I said.’
‘You are kind, you do understand geese,’ Nicandra spoke gratefully. Of course, he should be indoors, overseeing the demolition, not playing goose-boy with her. As he skilfully defeated the backwards turn of a goose, she felt she had a friend, even if he was the head executioner of demolition. ‘Perhaps,’ she said, ‘tomorrow you would help me to get them down to the farmyard. They would have the pond there.’
‘I’d say you have the right ticket – water and privacy is what the like of them want. Never interfere with a breeding goose,’ he advised.
So, to recap: Greylag geese don’t like being touched, so you should spare them the indignity (Lorenz), and you should not interfere with breeding geese – just give them water and privacy (Keane).
Incidentally, ‘They passed through myself and the bicycle like a pack of eagles’ is not an error or an affectation – this use of the reflexive pronoun myself is a common feature of Irish English vernacular.
Sara is showing Luke some photos she took with his camera:
‘Sometimes I feel like I’m just an accumulation of objects. I mean, here’s my pillow. It’s made of goose feathers. It’s a bit prickly, but I made it myself from a goose of mine. I was very proud of it at the time. I felt a great sense of achievement. And the dent in it is the dent from my head. See?’
Not an explicit geese tip, except in the implication that you can make your own pillow from their feathers, but still: What are the odds of three consecutive books with geese in them? I expected them in the Lorenz, but the cameos in the novels were a fine running joke that I couldn’t have anticipated or contrived without cheating. A line from Barker’s book comes to mind:
Lily sat on the bus trying to make sense of it, but not trying particularly hard. She didn’t like making sense of things.
Do you have any reading coincidences to report, goose-related or otherwise?
Postscript: Lorenz appeared here previously in 2011 when I quoted from Man Bites Dog in a post on dogs’ linguistic ability. The author’s breathless description of jackdaws playing with the wind, from the wonderful King Solomon’s Ring, later became my second post on Tumblr.