It was just after 6.30am and Jake the Dog and I were walking along a quiet village road. To our left a patchwork quilt of farmers fields displayed various shades of green as the different crops absorbed and reflected the early morning sun. On our right, a row of houses blinked uneasily as they awoke to a new dawn. Jake trotted happily along, pausing every now and then to sniff at something completely invisible but irresistibly interesting. I glanced casually to my left as I caught a glimpse of movement out of the corner of my eye. "Well look at that," I said to Jake. "Thats not something you see every day!" Jake and I stopped to watch the show that the morning was putting on for our entertainment.
Across the road a goose had stuck her head out of a hedge and was looking carefully left and right, checking the road for traffic. But it was far too early for any cars to be out and about yet. Cars are lazy creatures. They like to stay curled up warm and snug in their garages of a morning. Reassured that all was safe, the goose strode out and crossed over the road to the other side, the side where Jake and I stood watching. "Come along, children," she called. "Follow me!"
Behind her, a long, geometrically straight line of seven goslings obediently followed their mother. Each gosling left an inch of careful space between itself and the gosling in front. Goose and goslings marched with military precision as they headed determinedly towards their destination.
When they were about half way across the road I heard another rustling in the hedge. An eighth gosling tumbled out into the road, falling over itself in its eagerness to catch up with the rest of the family. "Wait for me," it called as it shook off a coating of dust and dead leaves. "Dont leave me behind!" It sneezed vigorously and then strode out firmly into the road.
The mother goose glanced irritably back at the line of goslings. "Hurry up Alvin," she called. "Youre destroying the precision of the line. Youve left far too large a gap."
"But there was a patch of clover in the hedge," protested Alvin, "and thats my favourite and I was so very hungry and..."
"Shut up, Alvin," snapped the goose. "Get back in line immediately. And clean yourself up. Youre filthy!"
The goosely procession continued on its way and soon they all arrived safely just a few metres up the road from where Jake and I stood watching them. The mother goose kept glancing over at us but clearly she thought we were too far away to be a threat. The goslings ignored us completely as they milled around their mother. "What do we do now mum?" they asked. "Whats so good about this side of the road?"
"Lets get a bit closer," pleaded Jake. "Id love sniff all those goslings. I bet they smell really yummy!" I always do what Jake tells me to do, so we walked up the road towards the goose family. The closer we got, the more agitated the mother goose became. "Gather round children," she said. "Get together in a group huddle so that each of you can protect the other." Obediently, the goslings huddled together and kept their heads down, though I couldnt help noticing that Alvin kept raising his head to stare at us. Clearly he found us fascinating.
The mother goose began to limp awkwardly in a spiral that took her further and further away from where the goslings were huddling. "Oh no," she yelled, "Ive got a broken wing and a broken leg. I cant run and I cant fly. Oh woe is me! Im such easy prey. I deserve to be eaten for being so clumsy!"
Jake and I watched in fascination as she got close to the far side of the road from where she had first appeared. "How did she break her leg and her wing?" asked Jake, puzzled. "She didnt fall over or anything. So how could she possibly be injured?"
"She isnt injured," I explained. "Its what mother birds do in order to protect their children. They pretend to be hurt so as to distract the predators. If she can get the predator to attack her it keeps her children safe. Of course, if the predator gets too close to her shell just fly away After all, she has to keep herself safe as well so that she can continue to look after her young ones when the crisis is over."
"I see," said Jake. "Clearly shes a very good mother. Shes doing everything absolutely right." He bent his head and took a gentle sniff at the gosling huddle. They didnt react, apart from Alvin who stretched up and bumped his head gently against Jakes nose.
"For goodness sake dont pee on them," I implored him. He almost invariably peed on pretty much everything he sniffed. "Their mum wouldnt like that at all!"
"They dont smell very interesting," said Jake. "They dont deserve a golden shower." He sounded disappointed. "Lets leave them be and carry on walking."
"OK," I said and we carried on up the street, leaving the birds behind. Just before we turned the corner we glanced back and watched as the mother goose walked back to her goslings and rounded them all up for the return journey. This time even Alvin got straight into line. He looked a little subdued.
"You were right," said Jake. "Theres no sign of her having a broken leg or a broken wing any more."
"Thats the healing power of distance for you," I said. "It never fails."
"What I want to know," said Jake, "is why did the goose cross the road?"
"To get to the other side?" I suggested.
"Thats facile," said Jake. "I think Jane Austen got it right at the beginning of Pride and Prejudice when she wrote: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single goose, in possession of a good road, must be in want of a crossing."
"Thats one small step for a goose," I said, "one giant leap for poultry."
"Thats quite enough of that," said Jake firmly. "I think perhaps we ought to shut up now."
"Youre probably right," I said, and we walked on in silence.