Friday, June 20, 2008

I was on the waterfront the other evening and noticed this lone goose sitting on the grass in front of the ferry building. It seemed very out of place, sitting on the grass tucking his head into his back feathers and trying to snooze in the heat. The waterfront was busy, and people were walking by him, leading their small children up to the goose to check him out, letting their dogs get too close. The goose would get up and get a bit cranky, then settle down again when left alone.

I love geese. They have this cocky attitude and bold, expressive eyes that are part challenger, part comic, and part inquisitor. They make me laugh. But while amusing in their attitude, I also know that geese can be aggressive, and they will snap at people if pushed too far.

I knew the goose didn’t belong there, and felt that it was very vulnerable – humans and dogs being their primary predators. I was getting ready to call Animal Control when a young man and woman walked up to the goose. They were obviously high on something, and the man went up to the goose and tried to grab it. The woman was laughing and egging him on. The goose snapped at him, and the man jumped back, then advanced towards the goose again.

I asked the man to leave the goose alone, and said very calmly that it was wildlife and should not be messed with. I was dialing Animal Care & Control at the time, and the man started yelling at me. It wasn’t the yelling that bothered me as much as the chilling effect of his words. Something to the effect (I won’t repeat the cuss words, which were liberally laced throughout his speech), “Who are you going to call? The police? The police aren’t going to help you. This city is bankrupt. The police said they’re not going to answer any calls that aren’t violent. I know the law here. They’re not going to help you. They’re not going to protect you. They’re not going to come out here and save you. This city is bankrupt. The police aren’t going to do nothing.”

Animal Care & Control came and we caught the goose (Thanks to Justine and David, he’s at a sanctuary now). But the encounter has been repeating itself in my mind for two days now. The obvious realization is that the scare tactics had obviously gotten to the streets, emboldening people who heard that they can do whatever they want in Vallejo as long as it wasn’t a violent crime. (The young man was wrong, as Chief Nichelini told the Council Tuesday night. The VPD will continue to protect the life and property of the citizens of Vallejo, as they have sworn to do).

Setting aside the couple’s bad behavior, I felt my encounter with that lone goose happened for a reason. And after a bit of research, I found some perfect inspirational tidbits that were just waiting to be shared with Vallejo*:

  1. Geese fly in a V formation, and as each goose flaps its wings it creates an "uplift" for the birds that follows. By flying in a V formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone. People who share a common direction and sense a community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.
  2. When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front of it. If we have as much sense as a goose we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.
  3. Geese shift the leadership positions frequently during the flight. It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each other’s skills, capabilities, and unique arrangements of gifts, talents, or resources.
  4. Migrating geese make loud, honking noises, called contact calls, to help them stay together. We need to make sure our honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement, the production is much greater.

Yes, the police may not be able to be everywhere for everyone in Vallejo. But their intentions are good and they are sworn to protect us, and I believe they will do their best to continue doing so. But as residents, we can help pick up some slack. We can join together, keep an eye out for each other and help and volunteer when we can. I feel very strongly that we can work our way through the pain of bankruptcy, that we’ll solve our financial problems and our structural imbalance. And when we come out on the other side, we’ll be a strong community that will take pride in our resolve and our tenacity and our newfound health and vigor. So please, as we go through these trying times, watch out for those more vulnerable than yourself – bad behavior should never be tolerated, and inhumanity never witnessed without protest.

*The information from Lessons from the Geese came from, and is based on a written piece in 1972 by Dr Robert McNeish.