Once upon a time – in the future, in fact, though not too far – there was a city named Vancouver where it was warm all year long. Sure, winters were cooler than the long, hot summers, but the temperature never dipped below zero, and cloudy, rainy weather is as bad as it ever got.
In this city there was a park called Stanley. It was a big, beautiful park, full of tall trees. And in this park there lived a colony of fat, happy Canada geese.
The geese were happy, but they were also a lazy lot. They spent all day eating, swimming and honking, and slept soundly all night long.
It was very safe for the geese because nothing ever challenged them. When they walked on the street, cars stopped for them to cross. Sometimes it took a long time! And they made their nests in the silliest places! One pair made their nest on top of a building – the residents were stuck without a roof until the men from animal control arrived to bring them down!
Their eating habits were atrocious! Geese are supposed to eat wild grasses, pond algae, and lily flowers, but not these geese! Instead, they ate what people fed them! This was because in Stanley Park, people were always feeding the birds full to the point of almost bursting. Bread, fries, muffins, cake bits, all sorts of goodies that people didn’t have room for in their bellies found their way from human hands to the ground and into the stomachs of the fine feathered folk across Vancouver.
It was a bonanza! Birds of every sort flocked from all over the Lower Mainland to the fields near Downtown for a feast! The dumpsters, garbage cans, and compost piles of Vancouver made for a hearty meal of leftovers, a veritable dining hall for anyone that flies. Seagulls piled on top of the mounds. Crows picked every piece from road – sometimes even when cars were passing! Sparrows swooped and picked crumbs from the ground, cleaning up every scrap almost as soon as it fell. And of course, the Canada geese loved to munch on their share.
So spoiled were these geese, though, that they did not even have to find a garbage bin to get their fill of food. For people loved to find feed them! Every day, lots of folks stopped by the big pond in Stanley Park and tossed breadcrumbs, popcorn, birdseed, and bits of baked goods to the birds. Some of them were from very far away! Places like Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia. Others lived here, but still took the time to visit Stanley Park and feed the birds. Ducks, scaup, loons, gulls, sparrows, starlings, swallows, all came to feast on the bounty people made available. But of course the geese, being the biggest, always got first pick!
The years passed and the geese got fatter and fatter. Time passed slowly and lazily, like life itself for the geese of Stanley Park. They were so big now! Some of them had forgotten how to fly.
Now geese are very social animals. Hear them honking at one another! To us it just sounds like bird noise, but when a bird hears another bird, whether it honks, quacks, clucks, chirps, or squawks, he understands what’s being said, because those sounds are bird words. It’s a different language! We people can’t speak it or even understand, but to a goose it’s as clear as when you hear your friends call your name or read this book! And in the evening, they love to tell one another stories!
You may be surprised to learn this, but geese of all kinds have traditions of storytelling that go back thousands of years. Some of them are very long! Long, long – long as a goose’s neck! And the older a goose gets, the more young geese love to hear their stories! They get better at it with practice you see – the oldest ones have very good stories indeed!
One day a small flock of goslings, newly hatched, were wandering as usual through the bright green grass and mucking about in the dark brown mud when one of them, the littlest one of all, heard two of his elders talking about the temperature.
“It’s cold” said the first. “I feel like my feathers might shake off!”
“It’s not that cold! We’ll just sit by the vent on the old Tea House tonight. That’ll warm you right up!”
“It wasn’t like this last year. I’ve never seen it get cold like this.”
“Oh hush! You are just being fussy! Why I bet you don’t even remember saying the same thing last year, like you do every time we get a little bit of rain!”
“No, but I really mean it this time! What if it starts to freeze? What if we have to migrate?”
“Don’t be silly! Things are never that cold around here. We haven’t had to have a migration since Grandma Hoot was a fledgling! There’s no reason to believe we’ll have one this year.”
And the little gosling was curious. He had never heard this weird word “migrate” before. What was it? And why did his elders sound so concerned?
“Do you know what “migrate” is?” he asked his fellows. They did not.
“Do you know what “migrate” is?” he asked the fledglings. They did not.
“Do you know what “migrate” is?” he asked the hatchlings. They did not know either!
He asked and he asked. It seemed like no-one knew! And he asked away, for the rest of the day, and by now the rest of his little gosling brothers and sisters and friends were curious too. So they asked the geese who knew everything.
“Mom, Dad, do you know what “migrate” is?” they asked their parents. And their parents were surprised! Not because they didn’t know, but because it never occurred to them that their children would even know what a migration was.
“It’s something… complicated,” said Mom. “It’s not a thing – it’s something you do.”
“We haven’t done it ever in our lives,” added Dad. “Why do you ask?”
“I heard two fledglings talking about migrating. Do you know what migrating is? What’s it like? Why would anyone want to do it?”
“Well, what did they say?” asked Mom.
“They said nobody had done it since Grandma Hoot was a fledgling!”
“Then that,” said Dad, “Is who you should ask.”
The goslings waddled over to see Grandma Hoot. They waddled and waddled…
Past the trees where the songbirds and sparrows perched…
Past the trash cans where the raccoons played…
Past Lost Lagoon Lake where the otters frolicked…
Past the White Swan nest near the roundabout by the Stanley Park train…
Past the Beaver Hermit’s dwelling by the squirrel cache…
Until they finally trundled up the path, one by one, to the roost where their elders sat honking and tooting softly, bellies full of grass and clover and ready for another warm night’s sleep beneath the canopy. The little one waddled up, his webbed feet smack-smack-smacking the gravel beneath him, as he sought out Grandma Hoot on her perch right in the centre of the flock. The others came waddling after him, one by one, in a straight line, shortest to tallest.
And by now they’d gathered quite a following! Behind them came more geese. Fledglings clamoured and jostled as they poked their heads above one another to be first to see what was happening. Grownups peered curiously – their neighbours, their parents’ friends, wondering what all the commotion was. Hatchlings tumbled and rolled between the legs of the bigger geese, not knowing what was going on and not much caring, glad simply to be among so many of their fellows in such an exciting time!
And there were more that came! Squirrels came chittering out of their nests, holes and roosts, running out along branches to get the best view. Families of raccoons stealthily made their way to the forefront, quietly taking up sitting positions in small clumps where they could see, little ones in front of their mommies so they could watch. A tiny wee baby one, little more than a kit, perched right on top of his mother’s head! The beaver poked his head out of his miniature dam to look with curiosity; sleepily he looked about, then bumbled over to join the crowd. Three wandering deer looked up from their serene drink by the pond and trotted to see what the fuss was, hooves splishing and splashing and clattering on the smooth stones of the lakeside. Even a stray coyote, mind off of food for once, came and held a respectful distance from the others, an unspoken truce between him and the other forest animals as he cocked his head in puzzlement at what could have drawn them together.
But most impressive of all was the multitude – the sheer multitude! – of birds! Every kind was there! Crows flocked and perched among the high branches, staring down with dignity at the commotion below. Ducks paddled up the stream, through the pond, over the mossy rocks. Gulls bumped and jostled rudely, squawking and complaining but for once keeping a modicum of control over themselves. Sparrows and swallows cut circular pirouettes through the air as they wheeled overhead in excitement. Two swans came up the path, husband and wife, nuzzling one another gently and paying only the barest attention to the hulabaloo surrounding their love. Even a pair of great Bald Eagles, imperiously looking down from above, swooped low and took up positions on opposite branches of a grand Oak to regard the proceedings with regal attention.
All this was building up to the main event: Grandma Hoot knew who they’d all come to listen to. She drew herself up to her full regal height and waddled to her customary place in the centre of the clearing, upon the knot of the old willow by the pond. The little one came scampering up to her, tiny wings flapping excitedly, eagerly carrying the question on the tip of his bill. The tension was practically unbearable! So at last, she lowered her great head to the little one, and asked in a soft, wise voice:
“Well, little one, what do you wish to know?”
But the little one was so excited and out of breath that he had to take a moment to compose himself. The animals began to chatter; surely he’d not forgotten what he came for! That would be too much after all this buildup. But Fortune was with them; the little one only had to catch his breath before the question spilled forth:
“Grandma Hoot, oh Grandma Hoot, what is migrate?”
Everyone fell silent. The gulls stopped their chatter. The sparrows settled down and looked at one another. The beaver stopped idly chewing on his old pine branch and wondered. Even Grandma Hoot was taken aback. But only for a second.
“Well, little one, migrate means going somewhere.”
“Like the pond?”
“No, somewhere far. Much farther.”
“You mean like the Burrard street bridge?”
“Farther than that.”
“Even farther than that!”
“You don’t mean all the way to White Rock, do you?” White Rock was far – most of the little goslings had only heard of it. Only a few of the assembled geese had even been there, but they all agreed it was quite a trip. Imagine their surprise when Grandma Hoot responded:
“Believe it or not, to migrate means going even farther away than White Rock! More than twice as far, in fact – many times farther! I should know – when I was very young, I did it once!”
“You did?!” chirped the little gosling. And there was now quite a discussion; the animals were all a-flutter. Some of them had been far, a few had even seen the Great White North up past Whistler or been deep into the interior, but NONE of them had been so far as Grandma Hoot was suggesting. And now everyone looked with new respect at that tough old bird; what a life she’s had, thought they! What a trip! It must be an incredible story!
“Sit down,” said Grandma Hoot, “Everyone, sit down. I have a tale to tell all of you.” And Grandma Hoot began her tale.