The Goose Formerly Known as Lucifer

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The Goose Formerly Known as Lucifer

By Joanna Lucas, Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary

He's easy to spot. He's the cranky, crabby, cantankerous, contentious, contrary, quarrelsome, crazy sonofagoose who "occupied" a corner of the pond yard, appropriated its assets - a broken wheelbarrow, an igloo, and a kiddy pool - hasn't left their side since, and will hiss, honk and spit at anyone who approaches them.

He is the goose who does ungoosly things - he will not swim, he will not socialize, he will not explore the world outside his tiny and separate world. Which is why the name Lucifer seemed appropriate - a rebel, a proud recluse, a tormented soul.

But he is also the goose who "rides" pigs out of his yard by biting down on their tails, bracing his feet against their ample rumps, and spanking them with his wings until they're banished to the other side of the gate. Which is why we call him Goosifer.

Goosifer grew up in a cage. As a youngster, his only contact was with Shylo, the turkey, and the man who "owned" them both. Without a community to teach him the rules, language and myths of his own species; without a family to teach him the strength and skills that living requires, he never learned how to exist fully and meaningfully in the world as a goose.

So Goosifer spends his days patrolling and protecting the borders of his solitary world, keeping all intruders safely out, and himself safely in, unless JC, the African goose comes calling. Then, with JC as a guide, he may leave his post and venture out for a brief outing. The two of them walk the open fields, harass innocent bystanders, honk, taunt, tease, trash-talk, and generally make great merriment and melody together. At the end of the excursion, JC brings Goosifer back to the gate and they part company. JC returns to his cross-species socializing. Goosifer returns to his solitary gatekeeping.

It's as though he is defending a nest full of precious eggs. It's obvious he knows that there is no nest, no mate, no brood to love. But it is just as obvious that he deeply yearns for it. And it's touching and telling that the only time he opens his fiercely defended phantom nest is to welcome a goose family - Graebel's.

Graebel and his life mates, Ginger and Marianne, are the only living beings who are allowed in Goosifer's yard. Those who don't know Goosifer might assume that he lets the Graebels use his pool because he respects Graebel's unchallenged authority. But the rest of us have learned the hard way that Goosifer respects no one's authority - and we have the welts to prove it. Maybe he lets the Graebels wade and splash in his kiddy pool because he has a crush on Ginger and Marianne and hopes that his gift will win their affection. But Goosifer makes no attempt to connect with them, or even get their attention. He just stands by the pool silently, motionlessly, feet planted on dry ground, and watches Graebel and his mates enjoy the pool together. It could be that watching this goose family passionately engaged in the duties, pleasures and burdens of their life together may be as close as Goosifer will ever get to experiencing it himself. What is certain is that the deep, intimate life union that connects Graebel, Ginger and Marianne is essential to a goose's nature. It's also certain that Goosifer needs it and yearns for it. It is unlikely he will ever know it. But he faithfully reserves a space for it anyway.

Goosifer is more or less ignored by other sanctuary residents. But he is emphatically noticed and remembered by most human visitors. Although what we see is probably not Goosifer, as much as our own reflection. We see ourselves in his fears, his comical compulsions, his irrational attachments, his bravado, his vulnerability, his struggle to whittle down the complexity of the world to something manageable: ONE home, ONE loyalty, ONE purpose, ONE love. We also see ourselves in his thwarted nature - his forgotten gooseness reminds us of our own forgotten humanity.

When we go through life with our most basic instincts of compassion stifled to the point where we can enjoy the flesh of persons like Goosifer, it's hard to claim that we remember how to be human.

When we know - but choose to forget - that the soul, the face, the mind that was once attached to the piece of meat on our plate was like us in every morally relevant way; when we know - but choose to forget - that the bird we crushed for our soup was a fellow mortal, a flawed, frightened, mysterious being like you and me, who loved life and clung to it as desperately as you and I do, it's hard to claim that there is much left of our humanity.

But, when we refuse to see other animals as anything less than the complex persons they are, when we refuse to consume their flesh, their children, their eggs, their milk, their purpose, we start to reclaim our own purpose, our own forgotten nature; we do what Goosifer does: we reserve a nest, an inviolate space where our most basic instincts of compassion, that are central to our our human nature, can be nurtured and restored.