The border between the human and animal worlds is a thin and often meaningless one: for wildlife, migration is as instinctive a reaction to change or danger as it is for us
I have a small vacation house on a small northeastern lake with a big problem. The issue isn’t Eurasian milfoil or Zebra mussels, the usual local plagues; no, my lakeside affliction is something Americans hear a lot about these days: undocumented immigrants.
In years past, I would see them every spring and autumn, honking high above in their distinctive V formations, migrating between NAFTA countries. They would make occasional pit stops on my lake but seldom lingered.
Nowadays, however, these migrants seem to be spending more and more time bobbing around my dock. They’re likely fleeing climate change, destruction of their natural habitats by development and, for all I know, civil strife and gang warfare in their homeland. Whatever the cause, I feel as if I am under attack, or, as our president puts it, being infested – by unwanted foreigners.
Clearly, Canada and Mexico are not sending their best. These aliens are worse than rapists and murderers: They are serial defecators. Their droppings are killing my lawn.
At first, I thought I could simply kill them in return. But at the town hall I learned I’d have to get a licence and await goose season, months away. I considered temporary detention as a deterrent, my own catch and release policy, but commuting fowl are protected from such indignity under the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act. A travel ban, perhaps? Clearly unenforceable.
Then I did what many Americans do in the face of perplexity: I went on the Internet. Experts advised raiding the nests of these invaders and removing their eggs. That sounded like another familiar immigration deterrence measure: separating children from their parents.
Well, it did to my family, who objected strongly. Indeed, they wanted to turn the lawn into some kind of sanctuary city. My loved ones are under the impression that geese are diligent seasonal labourers who contribute more to America than they receive in benefits.
There is truth in this. Migratory geese perform tasks many native-born Americans will not: eating insects, for instance, as well as those invasive weeds that clog my swimming area. Foreign geese have been providing such services in this country for centuries, so some form of deferred action status or even outright amnesty seems warranted.
Still, I yearned for border security. I feared the creation of a permanent underclass of feathered refugees – living in the shadows, taking jobs from American waterfowl and refusing to adapt to our culture, our values and our standards of personal hygiene.
So I built a wall. At a local hardware store, I purchased a roll of 80-centimetre wire fencing and installed it along the border. Within days, to my horror, the foreigners were goose-stepping right over it. So I escalated to a big, beautiful, 110-centimetre fence of powder-coated steel bars. I almost needed a congressional appropriation bill to finance the project, but it worked.
Until, one evening, I was startled by a commotion on the shoreline and went to take a gander. A couple of goslings had managed to get their fuzzy heads caught between my coated bars. As I worked to free them, I found myself confronting a pair of enormous, indignant parents, honking and hissing as if I were a jack-booted immigration enforcer in a black T-shirt.
That is when I finally understood what was at stake. You see, geese mate for life, much as we do. They are fiercely protective of their goslings, for whom they travel vast distances in search of a better future, as we would for our kids. They remove their offspring from threats – whether climate change, livelihood loss or armed conflict – just as we would if we were in their webbed shoes. They face down suspected predators – like me – without regard for their own safety.
Don’t get me wrong. I like my lawn, and I’m sticking with my border fence. But soon the days will grow short, and the insects and weeds will dwindle. If my noisy neighbours are still here, I might put some food outside the anti-immigration barrier. Not just for the geese, but for the sake of my own humanity.
This article is taken from issue 23. To buy the issue or subscribe, click here.