The Truck Goose was being forced to choose between marriage and his career.
His creer had been the most important thing in his life almost from the start. He was the last to hatch from the clutch of 14 eggs produced by a pair of Emden geese on our Fauquier County farm. By the time he was born the rest of his siblings had had their first swimming lessons. He had been left behind, in his shell. It was never quite clear how, in those first weeks, he established his devotion to our big blue Ford three-quarter-ton truck. But his single-mindedness was awesome to behold.
It started with grooming the wheels. There was something about the snips of hay from the fields sticking to them that profoundly upset the Truck Goose. He would spend hours tenderly removing them one by one from the hubcaps. Then he graduated to the valve stems of the tires, grasping them in his beak, valiantly attempting to straighten them. He was a goose with a mission.
His fanaticism then extended under the hood. Every morning would find his fat white body wedged beneath the engine, his long neck snaking up toward the spark plugs, his orange-rimmed eyes gazing lovingly at the exhaust manifold. We wondered if he could be taught to change the oil.
All of this could have been ignored, I guess, had he not come to view his devotions as extending to saving the truck from all harm. Nothing, but nothing, was going to come between him and his F-100. Not the border collie, who thought herding the truck was her perogtive. Not the peacock, dozing on the roof of the cab. Certainly not us, who had hardly viewed the truck as a shrine to some piece of poultry's perception of the Protestant's ethic. Clamped to the leg of the inattentive, the sharp serrated edges of his long beak worked remarkably like teeth.
Much of the attraction of the Truck Goose to his vigil, it appeared, was his loneliness. The other geese moved as a flock, their heads held proudly, their gait stately, their days divided between the pond and the barn in regular rhythms. But the Truck Goose never joined them as they splashed in the marsh reeds. Always slighty dirty, in the way a grease monkey can never quite get clean, he watched them come and go.
Never did he answer their calls. Never did they share his singular interest. When we dared use the machine, one of us distracted the Truck Goose with a flank feint while the other jumped into the cab, slamming the door and starting the engine. As the truck roared down the dirt road, the Truck Goose would run behind it in the dust, his wings outstretched, trying to lift his bulk into the air. Loon-like he would somersault several times on the gravel road before finding his feet and shaking his feathers as he straightened out, exhausted, to watch the truck disappear over the hill. He honked mournfully. Slowly, he waddled back to the parking area. Alone.
That's the condition he was in when romance finally entered his life. It was early fall, when the wild Canadas flew overhead, and the domestic goslings born that spring were pairing off to spend the winter -- in fact the rest of their lilves -- as monogamous couples. Peeling off from the gaggle, a young female did what none had done before. She approached the Truck Goose.
Like most workaholics, the Truck Goose had no idea what to do when she made a pass at him. He had never had any time for the finer things. His work had been his life. His social skills were non-existent. He looked in horror at this young thing making nice to him. He turned to run. Just then the truck returned. He ducked under it. The female stuck around, cooing. He didn't know what to do. To flee, to abandon the truck, his life's work, was obviously unthinkable. The female preened coyly.
It went on like this for weeks. The female would approach. The Truck Goose would bury himself in his work. She would endure his snub for hours.
Finally she got to him. She lured him to the pond. He started acting like a goose. He splashed in the pond with her. For the first time he got really clean. He even let her get close enough to run her beak down his back.
We have little idea why it ended. But end it did, and we're convinced it was the conscious decision of a goose that could not endure the strain of settling down, spending his time at the nests up by the barn when there was so much work yet unfinished. Suddenly we found he had resumed his station. He would have no truck with the female.
Just before Christmas, it happened. My wife, having safely managed to get behind the wheel, was very, very slowly pulling out of the paddock. She knew she had to be careful maneuvering the Ford when the goose was around, so she was watching closely and saw the whole thing through the big wing mirror. As the truck crept along in first gear, the goose ran toward it full-tilt. With great precision, and so quick than even panic braking did no good, he laid his head under the left rear tire.