What about goslings, you say. Hasn’t that goose been sitting on eggs forever?
Yes. I’m not sure exactly when K, my year-old Pilgrim goose, first sat down on the enormous clutch of eggs she started laying in March. But it was sometime in April. Goose eggs incubate for thirty days. Under ideal circumstances we should have goslings by now.
But circumstances have not been ideal. My life took a bumpy turn April 2. I was preoccupied and then away for weeks; goose eggs were the last thing on my mind.
Meanwhile K did not quite have the hang of this hatching thing.
Here’s the way it’s supposed to work. A bird builds a nest. She lays an egg in it, and leaves. Then she returns at intervals (every day or two), lays another egg, and leaves again. Only when she has enough eggs to please her eye does she stop laying and sit down to incubate them. In this way, all the eggs wait until a single kick-start moment when their development begins. This is why eggs laid even a fortnight apart will hatch within a 24-hour period.
Unfortunately K had not read the play-book. First, she laid and laid and laid. For weeks and weeks! Perhaps this is a goose trait. In his essay The Geese, E.B. White wrote that his goose Liz was a “laying fool” who laid 41 eggs and never sat down. K eventually sat, but not for long. She would sit patiently on her bumpy mountain of two dozen eggs for eight hours — eggs rolling out from under her feathers — and then suddenly get sick of the whole thing. I’d find her strolling in the pasture with her mate, Andy, grazing grass and chatting companionably. Eggs? What eggs?
I wished for Mr. Darcy, to give K brooding lessons. I was sure that with all this on again, off again warming and cooling, the eggs had chilled and died. But there was too much going on to worry about it. I decided I had to be philosophical. Maybe next year.
However just as I gave up, something tripped in K’s brain. Suddenly she got the point. No more dilettante stuff. She sat like a limpet. Andy, the gander, who had been screaming and hissing and flapping his wings with manly pride, was himself now banished. He skulked alone outside the barn, pulling grass sadly. His moment had passed. He didn’t even hiss any more.
Unfortunately some of the warmed-over eggs were now two months old. I could smell them all the way from the barn doorway. They began to explode. One morning last week I came in to find Kay standing over broken shells filled with greenish soupy stuff that looked like vomit. I drove her off the nest while I cleaned up the worst of the mess. The stench was awful.
A short time later I was fencing on the cabin knoll when I looked up to see K and Andy marching for the pond. The pond is 500 yards from the barn but after their single foray last summer, the geese have never been back. Andy is a nervous swimmer. He prefers to bathe in the tiny trough outside the barn door, where his feet touch bottom.
But K was clearly determined, and Andy trailed behind.
After a winter and spring of drought, the pond is very, very low. K marched resolutely down the gravel slope.
She was unstoppable.
Andy looked anxious and miserable. “I hate beach vacations.”
But K was going to have decent bath. She jumped in and Andy followed. The cats and I sat watching from the shore while K splashed and preened and Andy paddled in worried circles.
Then it was back to the barn, where K, now clean and refreshed, resumed her vigil.
There are a dozen eggs left. I don’t think at this point there’s much chance of goslings, but I will let Kay sit another ten days or so just in case. I have been wrong before — and there are few things worse than smashing “hopeless” eggs on the compost pile, only to find an embryo a day or two from hatching and having to watch it die.