October 5, 2012

The Washington Monument was mirrored in the Lincoln Memorial’s magnificently refurbished Reflecting Pool with such clarity that I was sure I could see the cracks caused by the August 2011 earthquake. A tree was echoed so precisely, I could make out a starling on a limb. As I sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looking down the pristine 2,100-foot surface of water, the pool was doing its job: I did indeed feel more reflective.

I have always been a huge fan of the Reflecting Pool and all it represents. That’s why I’m miffed that, after a $34 million make-over, we continue to abide the pool’s desecration by defecation. The desecrators, a flock of 100 or so Canada geese, apparently waited out the pool’s reconstruction, returning as soon as it reopened. The geese basically own the granite coping along the pool’s perimeter, claiming their territory with piles of guano that strike me as far more off-putting than the algae the National Park Service is working so hard to eliminate. The granite walkway beside the pool looks like a paint-ball target.

In February, I suggested in a commentary on this page that some mild hazing was in order to encourage the geese to “self-deport” and save the nation’s new pool from defilement. “Hazing” is a tried-and-tested technique for the humane modification of goose behavior. Reader responses to my suggestion were split evenly between laissez-fairers, who thought the birds should be left alone, and interventionists, who felt the hand of man was needed to coax the animals to find a new home.

I continue to stand with the interventionists. Getting a flock of geese to clean up its act at one end of the Mall need not be as complex and contentious as getting a flock of politicians to do so at the other end. The geese are a straightforward matter of national housekeeping. Hallowed common ground is being fouled, and we’re on a slippery slope. It’s a quick waddle from the reflecting pool to the World War II Memorial, a short hop up to the Lincoln Memorial. Is nothing sacred in this raucous democracy of ours? If there was ever a clear-cut need for federal intervention — in this case, by the Park Service — this is it.

The Mall is a wondrous place. It accommodates an astonishing array of activity. I run through it regularly, and I’ve seen people playing, praying, proselytizing, performing, spectating, expectorating, romancing, remonstrating, ranting, raving, racing, reading, eating, sleeping and warning us all that the end is nigh.

To be sure, some friction is to be expected on the commons. I’ve also seen a sari-clad visitor nearly get decapitated by a screaming line drive from a summer softball game and a World War II vet in his wheelchair cut off by a gaggle of school kids. I’ve witnessed tourists scatter before a line of Segways, bicycle commuters clip pedestrians who don’t move aside fast enough at the sound of their tinny bike bells, and sweaty runners, two or three abreast, getting all huffy when walkers don’t yield the right-of-way.

But amid all this hurly-burly, the Mall works — with this one waddling exception. The Park Service has the right and the wherewithal to fix it. It should encourage the geese to shuffle off to Buffalo — or farther north. (They are Canada geese, after all.) There are any number of arrows in the goose-management quiver that could be employed. Bring in some trained border collies, or try an acoustic technique (e.g, Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking,” played over and over). Or how about helium balloons painted with the image of predators, or Park Service rangers charging with upraised brooms?

Any of these would probably do the trick, but if not we could always try something more patriotic: launching fusillades of fireworks from pool-side on the fourth of every month, not just July.

See more on the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool:

Alexandra Petri: Say Algae on the National Mall