Sometimes, an ordinary experience surprises us — turning the mundane into something extraordinary. Writer Crystal Chan felt this on a walk she took in her neighborhood with a friend, reminding them of the power of being present and enjoying the moment.
It was supposed to be a typical evening walk. My friend, Zach, was visiting from Manitowoc and when I told him about the pond in our Oshkosh neighborhood, he wanted to see it.
What I call “the pond” is a retention pond for an originally low-lying area in our neighborhood. The city created the pond in order to prevent people’s basements from flooding. Mallard ducks generally congregated there in the summer, and as the autumn drew on, the ducks were replaced by geese.
Zach and I walked to the pond at dusk, when the sunset sky had faded and the stars were coming out. As we rounded the corner to the pond, we heard them. Geese. All spring and summer, I had seen only a couple geese at a time. Now, there were maybe 50, and they were flying, making wide circles around the pond, honk-talking to each other in the sky.
As the last of the sky’s color faded into night, the geese continued to make wide circles, honking, flapping powerfully just over our heads, the air snapping as their wings flapped.
I thought that the geese were just going to circle low to the ground, and that would been magic enough. But as night settled in in full, we heard more honking far in the distance. More geese were coming. Zach and I watched on silently. The original flock of 50 geese were still circling above us. Then, a single goose silently landed on the water and cried out, honking to the others.
“Maybe that one is a scout,” Zach whispered to me. And sure enough, within moments the 50 bodies of muscle and wing skidded onto the water’s surface.
Moments later, the second wave of honking was above us: Another dark flock. They, too, circled, crying out in the night. The geese already on the water cried back in a cacophony of noise until the flying group also skid-landed on the surface. We could hardly believe it when a third flock circled in, honking. 150 geese. Then 200 of them.
Only a thin strip of light shone from a parking lot lamp, a sliver of visibility. In this sliver, we saw a density of powerful bodies on the water, adjusting, preening, flapping. Beyond this thin sliver of illumination: darkness.
But we knew that it was not just darkness. We knew there were hundreds of wild animals mere yards away. The power of their presence was tangible.
It is not unsurprising that our experience rendered itself as utmost holiness in this pandemic world. These days, presence is fleeting. Presence is risk. We all have been presence-starved. You can’t see this inner starvation, but it’s there. As the night grew thick, I couldn’t see Zach a couple feet away from me, but I could feel his presence. Just as I couldn’t see the 200 powerful bodies upon the pond, but I could feel their presence. It was a visceral, primal sensing of presence, one that surpassed any Zoom meeting, one that fed the heart and spirit, the tingling skin.
At some point, the geese grew quiet upon the pond and there was silence. In the thick darkness, Zach and I couldn’t see them at all. But the power of their presence was overwhelming and palpable in the night, and in some deep and indescribable way, it healed a hidden part of us.