I am a gander; humans call me a Pale Bellied Brent Goose. I was born on a ledge on an island in the vast icy stretches of the Canadian Arctic. My mother chose this spot to build her nest because there were no predators to threaten either her fertile eggs or us goslings after we had hatched.

We geese are mainly vegetarian, so mother fed us on nutritious grasses, mosses and lichens which are in plentiful supply during the Arctic summer. I and my brothers and sisters thrived on our rich diet, losing our fluffy down and developing fine feathers along our wings and tails.

The day came when we were taught to fly; it was baptism by fire, as we followed suit after our mother’s demonstration, by flapping our newly fledged wing feathers and literally diving off our ledge. One of my sisters had “cold feet” and had to be given a gentle push. It didn’t take long before we learnt how to make turns, side to side and up and down and how to fly for quite long distances. Our mother showed us the best feeding grounds, telling us that we must gobble up as fast and as much as we can to build up our strength.

It was only later that we found out why.

My mother told us that when we had lost all our baby down and before the autumn snow, we would be going on a long journey. I was very excited at this news, so much so that I did a little dance and flapped my wings; mother told me firmly to calm down, as my racket might attract a hungry wolf or polar bear, adding “eat up and shut up”.

The shortening days were the sign that we should soon be starting on our journey. My brothers and sisters had all lost their baby fluff and we were all feeling strong and healthy. Early one morning my mother signaled for us to fly up to our nesting ledge and once we were all perched on the high place she took off, calling for us all to follow. We did as we were told and circled around our ledge a few times until my mother got her bearings. Turning to fly eastwards into the rising sun we formed a great V with Mother as the lead. I was behind my older brother and he seemed to make it easier for me to skim through the air.

It wasn’t long before we were joined by other families, some tagging on to the end of our V, others forming their own V. Soon the whole sky seemed to fill with our fellow geese; it was an awesome sight… and sound with all the swishing of hundreds of wings. Mother called back to us to keep flying close together and not to leave our family formation under any circumstances.

We flew higher than I had ever ventured before, higher than the sun, it seemed the higher we flew the easier it became, it felt as if the wind was pushing us forward. Looking down we saw a vast pine forest, interspersed with little lakes, spreading to the edge of the World. From time to time we were joined by different looking geese, bigger than all of us. There was such a great crowd in the sky, all flying in the same direction that we nearly blocked the sun out. It seemed as if we flew into the night, we could just see a great stretch of water glinting in the moonlight below us. Mother had told us before we took off that it was much, much larger than any of the lakes around our roost. She was right, it seemed to go on forever. When the sun appeared again ahead of us we could see a great Island with a range of very high mountains. I thought that this was to be our destination, but no, all our fellow flyers flew sharply higher and higher and it grew colder and colder. I started gasping for breath, the air seemed very thin up above the high mountains. My brothers closed in on me to support me if I fainted, and flying in their wake behind them made it easier. Even though we were high above the clouds, looking down I could see the mountain peaks breaking through.

At last we were over the range and were able to descend to a height where we could breathe normally. My mother had told us that the humans call this mountainous island Greenland; it didn’t look green to me, just white and rocky. As we flew towards the far coast, we heard a great rumbling and as we grew closer the white earth seemed to be on the move, in the same direction as us. When it reached the sea cliffs it collapsed in vast chunks with a continuous thunderclap into the ocean.

On and on we flew over the icy green waters spotted with floating mountains of ice. We flew over another great island, that had mountains that spewed fire and smoke. I was feeling tired and hungry and cried to my mother to stop and rest. She turned to fly beside me, encouraging me to keep going; telling me that, on their way to the nesting place, she and her mate (my father) had landed on this Island to gather strength for the rest of their journey over Greenland’s high mountains to the Canadian Arctic. They were feasting on the abundant lichens and mosses when there was a bang, and turning back, my mother saw her beloved mate go limp and drop to the ground, dead. She didn’t have much time to mourn her lost partner, compelled to find a safe nesting place to lay her eggs and hatch us out.

So, we kept going, my mother in front of me and my brother ‘egging’ me on from behind. At last we came to a truly green land (which the humans call Ireland). Flying eastwards around its northern coast, looking down to where the land and the sea entwine like praying human hands, my mother encouraged us by telling us that we were nearly at the end of our journey. She led us south, past a long inlet where many of our companions landed. Down the coast we flew till we came to a great sweeping curve of a bay, where we descended, landing where there was a slimy looking weed growing in profusion. It didn’t look very appetising but mother told us to “eat up, it’s good for you”.

After our meal we rested after our arduous journey and roosted in this strange place between a railway line and a big road, where there were many other birds of different shapes and sizes that I had never seen before. It was surprisingly quiet and peaceful; feeling safe and secure we dozed until the tide turned. We had reached our sanctuary. Its name was Booterstown Marsh, Co. Dublin and we were safe there because it was one of Ireland’s treasures held in trust by a noble environmental charity called An Taisce!

by Veronica Heywood, Natural Environment Committee, An Taisce

Watercolour painting by Veronica Heywood