August 28, 2013 —
One recent August evening I watched a scene of great beauty: a formation of Canada geese in flight over the Delaware River. The group had formed itself into a V. This I had expected, but two things about the configuration took me by surprise.
First, a small number of geese seemed to have formed a haphazard sub-group that flew between the two arms, and I even saw three or four geese break away from one arm to join the ‘rebels’. What was the purpose of this behavior? Was the sub-group taking a break from the stress of flying in formation? Or is it that one arm had become so long the geese furthest away from the leader were finding it difficult to relate to him and had come closer to him by moving into the space between the two arms?
The second surprise came from this: the two arms were not of equal length, and neither arm was a straight line. The right arm—the arm from which the separation I saw taking place—was noticeably longer. Plus, the V was more like the keel of a boat than an alphabetical V; that is to say, it was curved inwards especially as it approached the point of convergence. Maybe, this had something to do with the aerodynamics of the formation. Did the configuration have a biological life of its own?
As I looked at the flock, it flew above me, moving swiftly towards the setting sun. And, as the birds flew further and further away, it seemed as if the group itself had become an enormous bird—the geese strung out on both sides of a virtual body. They had become components of two albatross-like wingspans.
Soon I could no longer hear the geese’s honking. They were flying deeper inland, but to me they seemed to be above an ocean, having become a near-mythical bird traversing a vast distance. They had crossed a threshold.
[Siba Das is a writer and consultant on international development issues. He divides his time between Callicoon, N.Y. and New York City.]