Each winter morning, about 7:30, their cries preceed them.
I step outside as they fly into view. It only takes a few minutes for them to fill the air above the flat corner lot. Sometimes they are so low, I can hear the sky wafting through their stiff wings. Part trumpet, part bark, their voices inspirit the newly risen sun, the praising trees, and the admiring witness below. Encouraging each other, swapping places, their loose chevron makes its way south from the historic public golf course where they sleep to the park memorializing fallen firefighters where they feed. Canada geese, scores of them, permanent residents in our town.
I remember Linda.
Her cancer was in remission when Linda entered the graduate program. Her faith, however, her joy, her enchantment with life hadn’t seemed to abate one tiny bit. It seemed she loved learning all she could about anyone around her. Linda listened disarmingly well. She laughed easily. She seemed freely poised to become a brilliant counselor.
The University of Wisconsin in Superior occupies unremarkable brick buildings across the harbor from Duluth, Minnesota. Not long after fall semester begins, nights grow quickly and chill deeply. Linda’s bright, warm presence in class rewarded my weekly trips 110 miles down the dark two-lane highway.
Nearing mid-terms, she was absent. One week, no big deal, but two weeks? Linda came to class one more time, her head wrapped in a gorgeous scarf, her eyebrows thinning, her face pale but brilliantly alight. Her doctor still hoped this round of treatment would send her cancer back into hiding, but she wouldn’t have the strength to rejoin us until afterward. She gave us her address and phone number, saying she would love to stay in touch.
I was nervous about calling. Linda’s illness presented me with uncharted terriory. What would I ask? What could I say? Her courage and cheer were irresistable, however, and I was fascinated by her journey. She welcomed me with apparent pleasure.
At the time of my visit, she’d been told: the cancer overwhelming her colon ignored the chemical attempts to stop it. Time was limited. Pain could be controlled. Loss of life force could not. She would leave. Husband. Household. Family. Church. Friends. And yet she wouldn’t be conquered. She laughed. She showed me photographs. She told her favorite stories. And when I cried in marvel and elated sorrow, she cried, too.
From the loft of my tiny house, standing on the edge of a broad, silent meadow, I heard them. Crooning calls, hundreds of them. Their long lines, fresh from the arctic, waved through the graying sky. At the sight of Lake Superior, they directed each other to turn east, toward Duluth, toward the house where Linda rested between visitors, between breaths, between worlds. The Canada geese took turns in the lead, each winging body easing the way for the one in its draft. Going home. South or north, they were always going home.
When the air was again silent, I took out a box of crochet threads. Black, warm grays, downy white. And I made a small pouch. I don’t remember, now, what I put in it. There may have been sage, tobacco, a feather.
Trembling, I wrote a letter. I couldn’t know everything she was feeling. I couldn’t know what she would experience. I couldn’t know exactly where it would be or what it would look like. And yet, Linda, I understood that you were going home. I hoped in some small way, this little bundle, embued with the spirit of the geese, would be a comfort on the journey.
In January or February, but during a thaw, I received a letter from Linda’s husband. When she left, she held the bundle. It went with her. She’d asked him to write me because, she’d told him, she knew I would rejoice with her, for her, at the news.
There have been many prompts to think about home, recently. My trip to Switzerland, the holidays, an upcoming trip to visit Mom in Iowa, the twice daily overhead cries of the geese, even the current drought in Colorado. This post is the first in a series regarding what it means to be Home. If it sets your own thoughts loose, I’d love to hear from you. Come on home. We’ll have tea.