My time at Guilford College has been characterized by communion with diversity, not only among different people, but different animals as well. When your campus is surrounded by trees and 153 acres of woods on the property, as well as a lake encompassing over 7 acres, it is impossible to avoid our animal roommates, especially our feathered waterfowl friends. But before I regale my interactions with these surprisingly forthcoming, curious, and often, somewhat intimidating birds, I suppose I must introduce them! First, we have the eponymous Canada Goose, Latin name Branta Canadensis,with a long black neck and beak, brown feathered body, and white cheeks. It is a migratory bird, a type of mostly-herbivorous large wild goose common in temperate regions like North Carolina, and particularly found on or near bodies of water, such as the Guilford College Lake. At Guilford, the Canada Geese can be mostly seen eating blades of grass, as well as picking at the ground for other small insects. It is quite adept at living among humans, even though its scattered defecation tendencies and territorial aggression incites ire among weary college students trying to get to class, shoes and ego unscathed. Despite this, I can confidently say that my experiences at Guilford would have been less exciting, were it not for the divergence of Canada Geese from the stereotyped politeness of the people in their country of origin, Canada. During my freshman year, I had to take a First Year Seminar and a First Year Experience class, both of which are required of students in order to introduce them to college coursework and college life, respectively. Looking back, I feel I could have applied for an independent study too, given what the Canada Geese taught me about foot traffic, the right of way, and what it means to maintain decorum under pressure.
My classes were held in King Hall, the building right next to the library in front of a large long. The brick path winding over there from Founders took far too long to traverse, especially since I got into the habit of running to class at the last minute. I decided to cut across the grass in order to take a straight shortcut, as there seemed to be no prohibitions against doing so. Or so I thought. I was about to learn that, in addition to Public Safety and Campus Life, to the top of the list of individuals who could kick butt and take names was the Canada Geese. I thought they were birds, but they later revealed themselves to be stocky feathered bouncers with a taste for autocracy as they forced me onto the path with menacing hisses. I would know that noise from anywhere; when I traveled to Vancouver, Canada in middle school, I had the opportunity to witness a gander, goose, and their 4 recently hatched eggs, under a wiry tree in the winter. My mom and I, perilously, stepped a little closer as she reassured me that those hissing sounds were perfectly benign. Alas, we were not invited to the baby shower, and we were rudely shown out with a thunderous beating of wings. Five years later, there I was, having a standoff with a couple Canada Geese that were determined to try to make me late to class, or more succinctly, just turn tail and run. As students passed by me on the path with expressions that were probably a mix of derision and resigned sympathy, I was determined to stand my ground. Even though I realized the futility, I explained to the geese that I, a lowly student, had to show up on time for my first class at least. Their sentiments were unmoved. Finally, I edged around them, only to be greeted by a chorus of hisses, and suddenly from a few feet away, a goose or gander beating their wings. I prayed I wouldn’t slip in the mud as I ran for the safety of King Hall. Future excursions would involve me saying please and excuse me, and even though I would be remiss to assume that geese understand American expressions of politeness, I think we managed to strike a truce because it became easier to take that shortcut during my second semester.
But they were no stranger to tests of endurance, as I would soon find out. This past summer, much like the previous summer, I served as an Orientation Leader and Peer Mentor, helping incoming students acclimate to Guilford College, and facilitating fun activities for them to enjoy. Orientation is always a blast of energy, teamwork, and Guilford pride, but on the last day of every Orientation, we have a very special ceremony called the Passing of the Light. This tradition was borne from Quaker teachings that every individual has inner light of God, or even just what makes them unique, and this is what we celebrate during these ceremonies as we welcome students to the Guilford College community. In order to do this, orientation leaders light the candles of the first-years, who, in turn, light each other’s candles, and everyone is led in song and reflective contemplation. Following this, each student deposits their candle into the communal bonfire pit in front of the lake. On this particular balmy night, the Canada Geese wandered over to see what the commotion was, and somehow, deduced that our attempts to shoo them away was really just us trying to selfishly keep a tasty snack of flaming wax and paper candle holders to ourselves. One of them bit at the flames, and pulled back, but in the process, his wing got singed, for which we all winced in sympathy. I know I was pretty scared when the Canada Geese started trying to get me off the paths, but it is worth remembering that they are often far more hurt by our presence than we are by theirs. This is why we should try to make up for it by doing more conservation research, as Guilford’s biology lab is doing by utilizing tracking collars to analyze migratory and survival patterns.