Originally published on March 23, 2003.
It was only a small event on a busy city boulevard in the middle of afternoon — incidental, really, in the cosmic scale of things.
But in these senseless and dangerous times, something about it was oddly reassuring.
At the midtown intersection, the signals changed from red to green, and the traffic surged ahead. But only for half a block. Then the leading cars braked, and the lines of vehicles — two abreast in each direction — ground to a halt.
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From my place three or four cars back in the queue, no reason for the stoppage could be seen. I was struck, though, that none of the drivers farther forward, not one, sounded a horn.
All movement along the boulevard was suspended, as in a photograph. Then the explanation stepped into view from in front of the foremost vehicle.
It was a greater Canada goose, crossing with a measured, stately stride from the park on one side of the roadway to the lawn of a business enterprise on the other side.
And after that one came another. Then another. Then a fourth.
They proceeded in single file, unhurried as royalty in a parade, glancing in an offhand way at the machines whose progress they’d interrupted, but moving with a great sense of entitlement, exhibiting no regret at all.
I’ve seen such style as that only once before, in Paris, when a French woman of great age and elegance raised her umbrella overhead like a flag of empire and marched straight out at mid-block into the hurtling traffic on the boulevard des Capucines.
Her manner commanded such deference that brakes squealed, tires screeched, and the lady crossed unscathed. As did the geese.
It’s well known, of course, that the greater Canada goose is a powerful flier. On spring and autumn migrations, great formations of them travel hundreds of miles without rest, their wild cries ringing down through the darkness as they pass.
Why these four elected to cross the boulevard on foot, when they quite easily could have taken wing and soared over, cannot be known.
Maybe city living had caused them to put on weight, and this was a nice afternoon to be out walking for their figures’ sake.
Maybe, like that Paris lady, they simply thought it would be good for motorists to be made to show a little respect.
Or maybe they hadn’t given it much thought at all. But whatever their reason, the result was heartening.
For a suspended interval of almost a minute, the geese owned the street. Several dozen of us drivers, members of the species that imagines itself the masters of all creation — inventors of fabulous machines, makers of music and mayhem, builders of cathedrals and bombs — had been interfered with on our way to somewhere.
And we just sat there, uncomplaining, to let them cross.
How fine it is to be reminded of our occasional capacity for gentle civility.