A terrible clamour rose as we were meandering along the boundary between lake and field. We had been sniffing a billowing bank of May blossom that spilled over a low, taut chicken-wire fence. I was being bewitched by the quicksilver dart of a caddis fly.
Then goose bugles interrupted, the voices thrumming with distress, and my first thought was a dog on the loose or a day-prowling fox. The alarm calls led us further alongside the belt of trees and bushes beyond the fence, to where two greylag geese padded to and fro with heavy feet, heads tipped back, blaring anxiety.
Their agitation was focused on their four teacup-sized goslings, which had somehow ended up on our side of the fence. Separated from their parents, the honey-and-brown chicks, downy dabs only a few days old, huddled in a line, each butting its baby beak against the wire, thrusting its head into a succession of unyielding metal nooses that would close around its straining neck. The tiny flaps of their proto-wings beat feebly, as if trying to row their little bodies through, but the fence resisted. I cast my eyes right and left – there were no gaps. We knew what must be done.
We stepped towards the chicks and, in unison, the adults curtseyed with menace. A balletic stoop drew their wings back, their necks swung upwards and they hissed in fear and fury, bills open, showing slivers of serpent tongues.
We two crouched as one and I lunged to scoop up the end gosling. Though I slipped my cupped hands under it, a push of its winglets levered the chick out of my grasp. I tried again, this time closing my thumbs over its back.
I felt the cocooning softness of baby down, my palms sinking deep and deeper into this warm bag of bones. I raised the weightless burden over the fence, as if making an offering to heaven, and popped it over, to let it drop, bounce and run.
Thrilled with my heroic act, I turned to rescue the next, but Sarah, my nimble-fingered wife, had already saved all three of its siblings. And the geese? Off with not so much as a backwards glance.