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Copp’s Hill Moment: WILD GEESE

(Thomas F. Schiavoni recalls the nighttime sounds of a migrating flock high above the city.)

Ironwork on Copp's Hill Terrace - 2011-07-22 at 11-36-16Late one starry night in fall, I trudged homeward after a long and stressful day at work. As I unlocked the door of a former North End tenement, I heard the distant honking of wild creatures flying hundreds of feet above a hushed cityscape. Pausing with a smile, I recalled how commonplace Canada geese – now considered pests – had become in our corner of the world. With breath-fogged bifocals, I scanned the coal-blue sky in a futile search of their telltale undulating ‘V’. Although they flew undetected against the urban canopy, their celestial sounds transported me back to a time and place buried deep within a childhood memory. A bend in a tree-shrouded lane more than thirty miles north and fifty years distant from where I now live. This bit of country has survived since I was a boy although I wince when I discover signs of a subdivision sprouting down a side road. I purposely pass this way on visits to my mother in Bradford because it still feels as if I am traveling back through my youth.

The heat and humidity of a late July afternoon shrouds a pond in a stillness broken now-and-then by the clicking of cicadas and the marsh song of a red-winged blackbird clinging to a cattail. Dragonflies skim the dark glass surface in zig-zags over pods of lily pads that can snag a boy’s fishing line. Sitting on a shady bank, a 13-year-old daydreams as his red-and-white bobber twitches from the tugs of fingerling perch too small to swallow a baited hook. This does not seem to bother the youth still damp from the sweat of a long bike ride over tarred roads and broken asphalt. Struggling under a melting sun, he has pedaled up and down hills balancing a pole, can of worms, peanut butter sandwich, and canteen of now lukewarm water on the handlebars. This scene unravels in slow motion through thick hot air with not the slightest trace of a breeze.

Over the green treetops of the surrounding woodland, two winged creatures appear with a suddenness that startles the boy from his reverie. A pair of honking black-and-white fowl drop from the sky on a long landing approach towards the pond. Gliding parallel, they lower splayed webbed feet outwards as they set down with precision on the water and float to a gentle halt. He has never seen such magnificent birds except on the cover of a wildlife magazine. His heart races from the thrill of recognition, coming face to face – skin to feather– with Canada geese from the northern wilderness.

The boy never forgot that languid afternoon long ago when wild geese flew into his youth. And, he has held on tightly to this memory from a distant, innocent time when he lost his breath and could not find the words to voice his wonder at unexpected visitors from the natural world. He was alone, but certainly not lonely, on that summer day when he bore witness to the mystery of his life as well as theirs.


North End resident, Thomas F. Schiavoni writes about neighborhood life and city living

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