December 18, 2018
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Stranded goose reunites with gaggle — with some neighborhood help

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
A feral, domesticated goose honks for its gaggle below a dam on the Stroudwater River in Portland in this BDN file photo. The goose was somehow separated from the others on the pond above and couldn't find a way to rejoin them.

A domestic goose who went over the waterfalls and was separated from his gaggle, capturing the attention of a historic Portland neighborhood for about a month, has returned to his group.

A local man who helped coax the goose along a path back home said the “reunion was a honking good time” and credited local ducks with keeping Emmet company below the falls in his time of need.

“What I witnessed was something special,” Ben Hider told the BDN. “Those animals are definitely social, and the whole flock was clearly experiencing stress over this monthlong ordeal. They would come to the edge of the falls several times per day to honk downward while ‘Emmet the Goose’ honked upward in desperation.”

Neighbors gave the over-the-falls goose the name Emmet, after a character in a Penny Tselikis children’s book about the local geese.

Some residents of Stroudwater, a picturesque neighborhood with some of Portland’s oldest homes, were alarmed in mid-August by the plight of a goose circling the waters below the falls on the Stroudwater River. One neighbor called police for help, while another set up a wooden plank as something of a ramp up the 16-foot-tall stone dam.

Neither of the good-natured efforts helped the beleaguered goose back to his friends.

“It lost its way and that was traumatic,” said Lois Thompson, who lives nearby.

Domestic geese are domestic in that they descend from farm animals, not necessarily that they’re owned by humans. The Stroudwater geese belong to no man, and Thompson said they’re thought of as “community geese.”

Because their forefathers were bred for generations as meat birds, they’re heavier and cannot fly at the height and distance of wild geese — although they can get airborne with some momentum.

Whatever the physics, Emmet never cleared the falls by flapping his wings.

The distressed goose was isolated on the lower water for about a month when Hider decided to take action, coaxing the animal over water — in a kayak — and land to ultimately return him to the other geese.

Hider, an artist who frequents the area around the falls for photography, said the lost goose may have been more familiar with him than most humans.

Hider said after paddling Emmet over to a small picnic area behind a nearby yoga studio, he became concerned about scaring the goose into traffic and decided to back off for the day, retreating back under Congress Street in his kayak.

“After tying up my kayak to roll it home, I was surprised to see the goose behind me on the lawn. I’m not sure how he got across Congress Street. I suppose the ‘Goose Crossing’ signs we asked the city to re-erect did their job,” Hider recalled. “From there, I was able to corral and guide it with my hands in the air, talking to it saying ‘good boy’ the whole way while staying about 30 feet back to keep it from being spooked away. I walked it up Waldo Street, across Westbrook Street and down a neighbor’s backyard to the river, where the flock was floating two houses over.”

That’s where the geese were reunited, all six honking excitedly to each other, he said.

But that’s not where the story ends.

“To our amazement on the very next day, there were only five geese on the falls and one nowhere to be seen,” Hider said.

So yeah. Another goose went over the falls almost immediately after they were all back together again. They’re geese.

Thompson put it diplomatically: “I think they’re ‘goose smart.’ I don’t think they’re ‘people smart.’”

This time, the reunion didn’t take so long. Hider went back over to the aforementioned picnic area on Monday morning and found the wayward goose there. After some dialogue with the goose — the bird honked at Hider and Hider told him to “go home” — the human helped usher him over land back to the higher water where the others were waiting.

“Within five minutes of the second reunion in two days, all six geese were back on the edge of the waterfall grooming, sitting on one foot and taking naps like none of this ordeal ever happened,” he said.

At first, Hider and others believed it was the same goose who went over the falls on both occasions, but after reviewing photos of each, decided they were likely different geese.

And that Emmet may have been female.

Thompson said her father-in-law owned a Stroudwater home and bred prize-winning geese decades ago, and that the small gaggle still inhabiting the river is what’s left of that population.

Over generations, they became feral and their numbers fluctuated.

And sometimes they go over the falls, she said, although Emmet’s ordeal seemed to last an uncomfortably long time, attracting neighborhood concern.

“By and large, they just figure it out,” Thompson said, adding, “I was glad he stayed alive. They get run over (by cars), they get eaten by natural predators.”

But not Emmet.

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