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Something Told the Wild Geese

Something told the wild geese It was time to go. Though the fields lay golden Something whispered,—‘Snow.’ Leaves were green and stirring, Berries, luster-glossed, But beneath warm feathers Something cautioned,—‘Frost.’ All the sagging orchards Steamed with amber spice, But each wild breast stiffened At remembered ice. Something told the wild geese It was time to fly,— Summer sun was on their wings, Winter in their cry.

I share this poem today, though a bit late for the geese migration south, because it comes to mind every year between October and November is so simply lovely. Incidentally, I notice that berries surface here again in this poem.

If you live in Canada or the northern U.S., down the east coast, you will be familiar with the sight of Canada geese flying majestically in V-formation south for the winter and north for the warmer months. They are harbingers of both winter and spring, and they always give me pause for reflection.

What I love most about Field's poem is the way it highlights a mystery of nature that science certainly helps us to understand but perhaps does not fully explain: that these Canada geese know when it is time to fly south each year and that they fly in such an elegant and effective V-formation.

What internal mechanism signals to these geese that right now, right in this hour, is the time to fly south? Or north? How did these geese learn to fly in V-formation without instruction from a scientist to explain the principles of wind resistance? I am always fascinated by animal instinct. Is it hard-wired into their DNA? Can that explain the fact that monarch butterflies know to migrate to southwestern Mexico to winter, flying up to 3,000 to get there? Probably most of us have heard stories of long lost, beloved pets finding their way back home after being separated from their families for months, or even years, and across miles, even states. Though science might explain it, I find that fact fascinating too, and rather than detracting from the mystery, it only deepens it for me. For what grandeur science unveils: what intricacy, wisdom, and sophistication.

For more on why and how Canada geese fly in the V-formation, enjoy this article from National Geographic which asserts:

"Why do some birds fly in a V? Most people would say that they do it to save energy, which would be right. But it turns out that birds in a V are actually pulling off a feat that’s more complicated and more impressive than anyone had imagined." Read the article to learn more.

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