My children call it Goose Island, although "island" is an obvious exaggeration. A little rock pile with a half-dozen scraggly shrubs, it doesn't even appear on most charts. At high water it measures less than 6 feet by 20 feet.
The goose part is accurate, though. Every spring for the past 15 years, a pair of Canada geese has chosen the rock pile for its nesting site. But not just any spot on Goose Island will do. Each year they form their nest in exactly the same location, a little indentation between a couple of flat rocks on the highest point above the waterline.
Mother Goose gathers small twigs and vegetation to frame the nest, then plucks down from her breast to create a soft lining. Two flowering dogwoods provide a little camouflage, and by maintaining her perfectly immobile stance, she is able to escape detection. Fishermen regularly pass within yards of her hiding place, unaware that she is there.
One spring, I decided to visit Mother Goose regularly while she incubated her eggs. My early morning, five-minute paddle to the island was a great way to start the day. I always brought a few crusts of bread on these visits, which the nest-bound mama would hungrily devour. While she was busy filling up on the bread, she would allow me to examine her nest and its contents - six large white eggs.
By the second Saturday in May, she had been sitting on the eggs for 24 days. She greeted me with less civility than usual and was especially protective of her nest area. As she reached for a piece of bread, I discovered the source of her newfound surliness - a number of grayish-yellow fluffballs peeked out from beneath their mother's breast.
Five adorable baby geese filled the nest, but it was the egg that caught my attention.
Normally, all the eggs in a clutch hatch within hours of each other. While Mama gave me suspicious glances, I slowly lifted the remaining egg from the nest and held it to my ear. No sounds came from within, so I gave the egg a gentle shake, expecting it to be empty. To my surprise, I could feel something inside. I realized that the gosling had not been strong enough to break from its shell and had probably exhausted itself in the effort.
Carefully, I cracked the egg on a rock, not knowing what to expect. Inside was a wet mess of down, with a bill at one end and two gangly gray feet at the other. There was no sign of life.
Using my shirt, I lightly patted the pathetic creature dry. The head hung limply. There was no response to my coaxings, so I placed the unfortunate bird in amongst its brothers and sister and resigned to let nature take its course.
The next morning, I awoke early. It was Mother's Day.
As my daughters and I prepared a special breakfast for my wife, I couldn't help but think about the gosling that hadn't been strong enough to escape its shell. I decided to paddle over to the islet after breakfast and bring a Mother's Day breakfast for Mother Goose to help her celebrate the birth of her quints.
As I headed toward the canoe, bread in hand, I was greeted by a marvelous sight - Mama Goose and all six of her goslings lined up behind her.
She had come to show off her brood and, just maybe, to let me know my efforts had not been in vain.