I don’t know why I named her Grendel. She was a goose, not a gander, and she was certainly no monster, but the name suited her.
We acquired her and her mate, Gustav, from a couple who had bought my husband’s family’s house in New Hampshire. The decision to adopt the geese was made almost on a whim, but the house was located next to a rushing river, and Grendel had almost been lost twice trying to swim on it. Our own house, while it lacked a pond, was in the middle of nowhere, and was a perfect place for the geese to live.
Grendel and Gustav were over 20 and, somehow, had never produced a flock of their own, and we scratched our heads for a while trying to figure out why anyone would keep a goose for more than one Christmas dinner season. But they were cute, and so we borrowed a pair of burlap sacks to carry them home in the family wagon.
Gustav loudly registered his displeasure at the indignities we were inflicting on him, but Grendel was busy working her head through a hole in her sack. About 20 minutes into a 2 hour drive, we suddenly noticed a goose head in the rear-view mirror. Most of her was still stuck in the bag, but a goose neck looks incredibly long when it’s snaking down over a car seat to examine your two-year-old.
Our then-two-year-old was enchanted. He ignored our pleas to keep his hands down and away from her mouth – we had heard of goose bites breaking fingers – and he reached his arm up to try to pet her. Before I could get out of my seatbelt and intervene, she had evaded his hand and settled her head on the other end of the seat back. We rode the rest of the way with me watching her and her watching the boy – sometimes glancing toward me.
We got them settled, and once they found their swimming area, they quickly established themselves as the rulers of our yard. They honked at us, but it was usually harmless, and Grendel seemed to understand that I, as the mother of the odd-shaped gosling, would not tolerate any honks at my flock.
Much to our surprise, geese can serve useful purposes besides decorating a dinner table. We had installed their little house in the middle of our garden, and Grendel quickly took it upon herself to attack the weeds – don’t ask me how she distinguished them, but she earned her keep very well. Gustav, as the man of the hut, ventured beyond the garden and did an admirable job keeping huge patches of the lawn short. But it was not until Grendel became more adventurous that I found I had adopted an ally.
Our house sat next to a dirt road, and we hardly got any traffic. When we did, however, it was often in the form of a speeding ATV. As my toddler became more adventurous himself, I started trying to block off any access from the yard to our short driveway. My protectiveness was always trumped by his curiosity, however, and I knew it was only a matter of time before he found a way out of my homemade gates.
He chose his moment well. He had joined me in the garden at first one day, but the moment my head was bowed over a group of weeds, he wandered out of that fence and made his way across the lawn to the gate that had most recently piqued his interest. He crawled and toddled, and when I heard a soft laugh, I realized I’d been deserted. I looked up and saw that he had breached the perimeter and was making his way down the gentle slope to the driveway.
Out of nowhere, Grendel appeared in front of him, honking with all her might. She had launched herself over the other gate and circled around to meet him. My son plopped down on his diapered butt, his mouth wide as a silent scream formed. Then came the real cry of fear, and Grendel-the-momentary-monster backed off. I had lept over the gate by now, and was at his side comforting and scolding him. Grendel gave one more soft honk and went back to the yard the way she had come.
On that day, the timid truce that had existed evolved into something more, and so did my understanding that not every useful purpose can be measured in bushels or greenbacks.