For several weeks, I had noticed a gander, or Mr. Goose, as I called him, standing like a sentinel, rain or shine, outside on the grass of our office building at 12 Roszel Road, so still you could have tied a blue bow around his neck and pawned him off for a tchotchke. Every day when I came to work I greeted him, out loud, how’s it going, Mr. Goose, what are you up to today, Mr. Goose. I figured I wouldn’t tell my co-workers that I was speaking to the gander for fear I would worsen my already shaky reputation of being one sandwich shy of a picnic.
My co-worker, Kathy, and I walked out of the building together one evening. When we saw the gander, standing where he’d been all day, like a guard at Buckingham Palace, and Kathy confessed, “I talk to the goose,” I felt a flood of relief. There was another Mrs. Doolittle besides me. “Have you seen the mother and the eggs?” she asked.
Mother Goose was keeping her four eggs warm and dry in an immaculately constructed down nest at the far end of one of the grass-covered medians in the parking lot while Daddy Goose was looking out for trespassers. “Now that’s a great dad and a great mom,” Kathy said, and we marveled at the intact little family in our midst. As the weeks passed, I gradually became aware that everyone in the building, not just my co-workers, was watching the eggs, albeit from a safe distance. Someone had put out a metal dog dish of water. Another had left chunks of bread. And what I thought was just my own personal fascination with the anomaly of a wild creature on a corporate lawn turned out to be the personal fascination of virtually everyone in our office park.
Then one day the miracle happened. I came down to my car at lunch and saw that three of the four babies had hatched, tiny bundles of yellow fuzzy joy peeking their little heads out just above the grass. My co-worker, Bill, drove up and joined me. We were riveted. “I looked them up on the Internet,” he said. “They are monogamous, and they generally come back to the same place every year to have their babies. The incubation period is about four weeks.”
The next morning, I checked out the nest and was greeted by baby number four. I immediately went upstairs and buzzed Bill. “Come look. Baby number four hatched!” “I’ll be right there,” he said. And we happily abandoned our computers to watch Mother Nature at work. That afternoon when one of my freelancers stopped by with his four-year-old, we went down to take a peek, and were quickly joined by two other people who work in the building, previously known to me only as the blonde who takes a walk every day at about 11:30 a.m. and the guy who frequently wears tennis togs, people who I had seen a thousand times but never spoken to. Yet our chatter that afternoon about the baby geese quickly approached the energy of a cocktail party.
My co-worker, Lynn, showed me photos of Mother Goose and the goslings that one of our photographers, Brian, had taken. “Aren’t they cute?” she said. Our boss, Rich, revealed “there was real drama here for some of us.” He observed this Mother Goose sat on her eggs for at least six weeks, and possibly eight — he kept track while issue after issue of our sister paper, the West Windsor-Plainsboro News, which comes out every two weeks, was bagged by the deliverers in the parking lot, adjacent to Mother Goose. “We had to sidestep poppa and sometimes momma (who would occasionally get up for walks),” said Rich.. “A lot of us were convinced that poppa was sterile and momma goose was dumb as a stump and was performing an exercise in ignorant futility. She obviously had the last laugh.” I was definitely not the only one obsessed with the babies.
Curious to find out more about why grown adults will basically go bananas at the sight of newborn goslings in their office parking lot I turned to Bill Hayes, a psychiatrist with Alexander Road Associates. He knew exactly what was going on with us. “I remember my wife and I watching our one-year-old son smell a rose for the first time. It was amazing. He was overwhelmed by the scent. He was just sniffing with great enthusiasm,” says Hayes, whose two children are now grown. Apparently our fascination with Mother Goose and the goslings produced a state that Hayes calls “being fully aware and paying full attention. This is mindfulness, a Buddhist concept in which people need to be fully awake and aware to appreciate what they have in life. If you wonder why people don’t notice your new haircut it’s because they’re not paying attention. They don’t really look at you. When something new jars you into paying attention, it’s somewhat like being a child again, experiencing it for the first time. You lose your pre-judgments and become fully awake.”
Indeed it seems that efficient businesses have become so cookie cutter that the unusual event that so completely captivates our attention rarely occurs. And of course we have pushed nature so far away from us that we rarely see it. Hayes, who specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry, says that books have been written on the subject of how children are becoming very isolated from nature.
Hayes studied psychiatry at Georgetown and did his residency at SUNY’s Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. He says that once we at 12 Roszel Road reach a state of full attention watching the baby goslings, the emotional quotient kicks in. “That’s when you start actually paying attention to the idea of mothers and families and babies. That’s about us; we’ve all experienced all of those things. It reminds you of all those things you’ve stopped paying attention to. An event like that focuses us to fully appreciate it, and it taps into all of our maternal instincts, reminds us of the emotional things that are important to us. When you see that in another animal, it brings all those feelings to the fore.”
Maybe humans, I wondered, are the only ones who have dysfunctional families. The geese, like the penguins in “March of the Penguins,” seemed to be crystal clear about how life is supposed to go.
Hayes lives in Hopewell Borough with his wife, Mary, a counselor at Rock Brook School in Skillman. He says “you can be fully aware and present and in the moment almost anywhere. When they filmed a scene for the movie `I.Q.’ in Hopewell, the whole community got together, neighbors started talking, bringing food to the set. It gets you to pay attention.”
This past Friday, it was pouring buckets when I got to work, but there was the intrepid Mother Goose, soaked and undaunted, sitting on her four babies. Later in the morning, Bill buzzed me. “The mother and father and babies are gone.” This red alert sent us zooming down to the parking lot. It was true. The rain had stopped and the sun flickered on the little feathers in the empty down nest. We silently returned to work, our heads hanging low. I shuffled, morose, into Kathy’s office to break the bad news but she told me she had seen them earlier that morning, wobbling down the curb of the median, one climbing over another’s back to reach the ground, no doubt on their first excursion for food and water. I buzzed Bill. “Let’s go check!”
Back we went to the parking lot, where we saw that the nest was still empty, and the Golden Delicious apple someone had left Mother Goose sat untouched. Nature had indeed taken her course, and we could only hope that it was true that our fuzzy bundles of hope eternal would return next year. Until then, what will we pay full attention to?