For a few weeks every spring and fall I return from my explorations to the bog stirred, sometimes even shaken. Traveling geese and ducks carried my mother and aunt with them, one into the arctic north where she loved to be, and the other — who did not much like to travel in later years — south on a youthful great adventure to the great unknown.
What could be more evocative than honking geese passing overhead in the night or alighting for a few hours in the late afternoon on the bog in one’s back forty, only to move on that same evening? They embody my longing, my sehnsucht as the Germans so aptly call intense yen for the indefinable, hooked up in my case intricately with fernweh, a more-defined yearning for faraway places.
The facebook meme that reminded me of these terms brought back the realization that English is not the most emotionally expressive of languages, something I learned in the wee years of my first marriage. A feeling that one does not have a word for is not truly legitimate, doesn’t really exist. Perhaps the relentless positivity of American English causes us trouble in recognizing that the vaguely unhappy or yearning states of being, once thought exalted, are a basic and even necessary part of life.
Might importing words take the place of medication or therapy by giving recognition to otherwise indefinable feelings? Weltschmerz, the despair caused by the state of the world, seems far more legitimate than “bleeding heart,” for instance, and might take the place of some of the more vituperative political exchanges. I think there could be a place for this in the futile striving to make medicine less expensive while adding more and more layers of senseless and costly administrative bureaucracy in an effort to avoid simple rights-based healthcare. Or perhaps it has legs as a new alternative therapy for those who can’t afford a shrink. Learning a language is cheaper and has additional bennies when you travel.
But I digress. Geese and ducks are the most human of birds: not only do they sound like they have stories to tell, they mate for life and they return to their birth ground each year to make more. No wonder I feel they embody my own personal angel-ghosts, or maybe my inner life. (On my mother and ducks, read Agatha and the Ducks – on ducks more in general, Three o’clock duck)
And so this month geese and ducks are in and out of the bog I call Canada in Plainfield. They are on the great trek north to the real thing, and the trick is to figure out when they start nesting. For that is when it becomes imperative that the hound be restrained from his usual curiosity – he’d be flushing sitting ducks off nests left and right and that would not be a good thing. Any moment now.
The hound and I were walking by the bog the other morning wondrin’ when we’d see the water birds doing their nesting thing when we heard a moan. Since someone had just alerted us to the existence of moaning bears we were immediately on full alert. Two geese swam into view, but slowly, the one in front moaning softly. The other was low in the water, head forward. I briefly wondered whether this was a mating ritual and quickly hooked up the hound before he could go and investigate.
They swam onto a slab of ice and the low goose died. The other moaned and stepped away a bit. The realization that they needed privacy was swift and incredibly forceful. Or was it simply that I could not bear it? Perhaps those are the same. The list does not provide a name for the feeling of “I am going to leave you in a lurch now because I can’t take it and I am going to think I am doing it for you.” Perhaps it is verschlimmbessern, “making something worse in the very act of trying to improve it,” mixed with torschlusspanik, “fear that time is running out to achieve life goals” and possibly a healthy dose of me being a schatternparker (look it up).
We beat it up the hill through a tangle of bushes and ran back home sobbing.
Canada in Plainfield, March 11-23, 2016. If you click on one image you get the album. Images may take a moment to load entirely and get crisp.