Partners for life: What can we learn about love and commitment from Geese?

Geese in Love. Photo by Johny Biggs (Flick)
Geese in Love. Photo by Johny Biggs (Flick) | Source

By Mirna Santana

In learning about mating behavior in geese, I found similarities with long-term human couples. Long term partnership involves commitment, collaboration, common goals, and faithfulness to the union or partnership. Yet, perhaps something very basic is a kind of understanding and acceptance of the other for what he or she truly is. This seems to be a difficult task for couples. One or both of them would seek to re-make the other into whatever ideal they have. In the end they build barriers and disappointments instead of unity.

I recently met a couple of Canadian geese. He was tall, slender and elegant. She was small and seemed to have a strong personality. They were walking side by side. Are you looking for a place to nest? I asked him, to which he smiled a bit shy. He surely had some plans. What about you? I asked her. She looked up sort of proud and responded ‘perhaps’. For now, she said, we are just walking and enjoying the evening. He looked back and shrugged his wings and commented 'she is always like that.' And he seemed to accept that quality of her. Perhaps in a few months I get to see some little ducklings, I thought, smiling back at him.

I did not know that most Canadian geese engage in long-term partnerships. Yet for this to happen when a male Canada goose is attracted to his partner, he must be willing to fight for her if another male is interested in her. Even after he wins the contest of strength and is able to chase away the intruder, his love is not guaranteed. He has to court her until she accepts him. Perhaps this is what was happening with the couple I saw. He though looked quite certain about his choice.

The couple geese –as the human couple would-- collaborate to keep the nest and to defend it from intruders. Later on, they will work together rising and protecting the young ones. When they have a family, the male will lead the formation and the female will be at the end ensuring that all ‘kids’ are safe. In many ways this could be the portrait of a human family.

When one of the pair is wounded or injured, the other stays around until the wounded one heals. Sometimes, when one of the members is killed during the hunting season, the other member would not migrate and instead endure the harsh winter conditions.

Humans, if we listen carefully, we may speak with the animals. We may learn their languages and we may learn about their ways. We have forgotten that a long time ago we shared the same land. Perhaps, if we were able to learn some lessons from the other animals, our human family would benefit. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) in the poem Hiawatha’s Childhood told us a little about that.

“The Little Hiawatha learned of every bird its language, and their names and all their secrets. How they built their nest in the summer. Where they hide themselves during the winter, Talked with them whenever he met them...”

I am a little bit as Hiawatha and I enjoy meeting these folks and finding out a little bit about their secrets.

Perhaps because animals do not posses more than what life give them, they need to accept each other as they are. In a way humans do seek the same type of recognition. Victor Hugo once said “The supreme happiness of life is the conviction of being loved for yourself.”

Another thing we need to know is that love is an inner experience. In Love and Commitment, Carol Leavenworth said that we are responsible for building or destroying the barriers that prevent more love in our lives.

Since the day I had this ‘conversation’ with a geese couple, I was heading to meet with a close friend, I would like to end this note with a message about compassionate love or unconditional love. For that, is a kind of love that though shared by couples, is rather more common among friends. This is a type of love that rejoices in the presence of another person without demands. Because of this very feature, friendship tend to be relaxing and usually long-lasting…same as geese partnerships.

All have their frailties and whoever looks for a friend without imperfections will never find what he seeks. We love ourselves notwithstanding our faults, and we ought to love our friends in like manner.” Cyrus.

Sources

1. A geese couple walking around the Lake Shore Path, Madison, WI.

2. Character Sketches by the Institute in Basic Life Principles, Inc.

3. One Hundred and One Famous Poems. Anthology compiled by Roy J. Cook.

4. Love and Commitment. You don’t have to settle for less-- By Carol Leavenworth

5. Living in Love by Alexandra Toddard

PS. Most primate species do not mate for life. In terms of evolution long-term human couples are a deviation. Yet, many golden couples think of them as win-win situations.

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