Down Nature's Paths


 Wild Geese Honking

I AM writing this at 2:30 A.m. on a late October night. A few moments ago I heard a sound that set my feet on the floor before my mind had fully emerged from the dim halls of sleep. Wild geese honking! I must go call my sister to hear too. The sky is really clear, but there is a low, foggy ceiling. The rhythm of the alternate sounds overhead was like the plashing of canoeists on a smooth gray sea. But how swiftly they passed, and silence muffled the sky!

Yet the sounds keep ringing in my mind's ear till I cannot sleep. Is it just that the sound heard on this inland Tennessee air reminds me vividly of my childhood on the shore of Lake Michigan, where autumn flyways, day and night, were filled with the mutual guide-cries of the migrating flocks? The answering thrill to the geese's cries may be nostalgic when I feel it now, so far removed in time and space. But I felt the same thrill then. No matter how often we heard the flying V's coming, someone shouted, "Geese coming over!" and we ran to watch. They might be sloping down to the lake, black against the reflected pink of sunset, or rising southward against the golden morning sky, or passing overhead without stopping in the blue noonday; but always the sound of geese brought us to some advantageous viewpoint.

The greatest thrill of all came to me one fall night when I had stepped out into a warm, moist evening, with a low, foggy overcast, gently diffused with the brilliance of the brightest moonlight of the year—"the hunter's moon." While I stood in darkness on the ground, the semi-illumined misty world above me was filled with moving voices. Some were loud and strident, some gently twittering. From every point of the northern sky the voices swiftly approached and flowed over me into the southern distance. Frightened, I cried for the family, who all came out to listen. It seemed as though all the little birds in Canada and northern United States were using that warm, bright night to put as many miles as possible between themselves and pursuing winter. And they all were fluting as they flew—families reassuring one another, tribes keeping trace of tribes. Wondering, awestruck, I asked mother many questions about those voices.

I do not recall her answers; I only know that when later I read Bryant's "To a Waterfowl," I already knew what it meant—mother had told me.

The human heart was never meant to be alone. Its final rest is only in God, and whoever seeks it in other human sources will sooner or later plummet downward to eternal darkness. But keeping ourselves to that unseen goal of the celestial flyways, we still need the companionship of others passing the same way. Whenever since that distant autumn night I have found myself alone in the dark, frightened and bewildered, I have known that above the overcast, moonlight was shining, and when I spoke my Father's name, my brothers and sisters drew near in fellowship.

Why do geese go honking down the dim night sky?

Why not pass a-silent? Why that broken cry?

Ah, they need the aid of knowing others near.

List each one inquiring, "Brother, are you here?"

I am wending homeward through impenetrable night,

Moving, angel-guided, toward a far and unseen light.

I too need the aid of knowing others near.

List my heart inquiring, "Brother, are you here?"