Living here often prompts the lagoon of my memory to pounce upon me. Usually it is a scent that has the effortless power to pluck me from my present and plonk me into my past. The scent of a country road, perhaps triggered by a single wild flower, transports me to my childhood days spent in Norfolk. The scent wafts up my nostrils and dictates my brain to find this submerged recollection. For a moment I am eleven years old again. Free of all things adult and rural Norfolk is briefly my playground once again. I scamper down to a lush and overgrown stream on my own. I get goose pimples on the spot because I feel liberated and vulnerable all at once. Quite suddenly the scent evaporates and also the memory with it.
This afternoon a different scent plucked me from my daily activities. Today’s scent consisted of straw that had been heated by the summer sunlight. I was not more than six when I had my first encounter with Goslings…
A Gosling Memory
My Granddad brought me up to ‘muck in’ on his smallholding. It housed numerous chickens, ducks, geese and sometimes goats. I can see my child self, ruddy faced with wild hair, proudly wearing dungarees and yellow wellies. Tightly clenched in my smallish hands is a tin bucket full of feed for the geese. I was rather weary of the Gander (male goose) as he never thought twice about nipping my flesh with his strong, orange beak.
I adored the family dogs and cats. On occasion I would enthusiastically help nurse unexpected kittens and give them all rather peculiar names like ‘Chess’ and ‘Yogurt’. Looking back, I wonder if I thought the household pets where siblings. A strange thought I know, but I was a single child for ten years and I spent so much time chatting away at them and I was very good at integrating them into my ‘games’.
Anyway… At one time my Mother and I lived at my Grandparent’s house in Yorkshire. My Granddad was breeding poultry (ducks and geese etc) to sell on as an income. This seemed to suit him well after his shepherding days. I was always on hand to help him and I was eager to be included. One breeding technique fascinated me greatly… incubating goose eggs.
Granddad and I had become a great little team. I was a wide eyed and over enthusiastic. I was a young fledgling soaking up all my Granddad’s wisdom and sound teachings. The two of us would religiously turn each fragile egg together. As a child, I never understood how his huge, bear-paw like hands, never damaged the shells. The concept that something could be both strong and delicate was beyond me!
Each egg had its own space inside the warm womb of the incubator. I remember the incubator as being a simple box, that was small enough for even my small self to tower over. I could see inside, via a glass window on the top. There was at least one light bulb providing some of the necessary heat for hatching to take place.
I understood early on that some goslings never made it out of the eggs at all. We spent our days leading up to the ‘hatching’ date feeling hesitant. We were hopeful that our hard work was not in vain. Patience was key to this incubating process and all I could do was treat each egg as if it were a rare golden treasure. I would guard them as if my life depended on it. All the while I pined for the big moment!
Finally, after all the diligent turning, heating and guarding we were alerted by the sounds of tapping and squeaking. I watched in excitement as hairline cracks began to make a jigsaw pattern on the surface of the shells. Although it was a School morning, after much discussion I was granted the opportunity to stay and watch the first few hatch out. It was decided that this was an educational moment that would expand my mind. And with that diagnostic I cheerily watched on as other children where plodding to school. I stood beside our dog ‘spot’ as he whined in confusion and with a little anticipation. Soon enough an exhausted, damp, gosling broke free of its shell and flopped over as if it were made from Jelly. The gosling would then have to heave it’s small lungs in order to take its first breath of air.
Now I know watching the hatching take place was nature at its best. However, as a child, it presented to me as though a magic trick that my Granddad simply had waiting up his sleeve.
I often call Granddad from Ireland and ask for his wise old advice about curing animal illness or I tell him about my spotting a Vixen and her cub playing together on the back avenue. I guess he has taught me some of that magic he has up there in his sleeve!
He has shown me what today’s intensive farming has left behind. It discarded the tales and the riddles (the magic) my Granddad and his friends lived and worked by in the Dales. It was true laboring, consisting mainly of ‘human’ and horse power (not a quad bike in sight). He taught me his love for it, as a way of life, as a form of existence. He found an equilibrium. It seems to me there was an encompassing of mutual respect. Although subliminal, he respected the human impact he made upon nature and nature respected her impact upon him and the work to be done. It was not always idyllic, often far from it. It was no fun digging new born lambs from under four feet of snow and cursing nature’s cold spell under one’s breath. However, I sense that being a Shepard at least for my Granddad was a physical form of meditation- essential for one’s well being.
Within my Granddad there is his own lagoon of memories. In which there is an essence of farming that will never be recaptured in his or my lifetime. Asking my Granddad for advice and sharing my own encounters with animals and nature encourages us both, as a team once again to respect the beauty of the ‘old ways’ in our small, little way, while we still can.
Please feel free to leave a comment and share a memory of you your own that may have come to mind. Keep a look out for next weeks blog post!