Yesterday, I went looking for an essay I wrote maybe 25 years ago titled, The Sense of a Goose. I found it on the Internet [of course] at Idaho.gov. Whoever posted my essay did not know that I wrote it, so I was informed that the author is “Unknown.” Mystery solved.

My essay, which appears below, paraphrases a wonderful and insightful essay by the same name written by Harry Clarke Noyes, for the ARCS Foundation’s January 1992 newsletter. The ARCS Foundation supports academically-superior science, engineering and medical research graduate and undergraduate students.

I wrote my version of Sense of a Goose amid all the political discord and angst that followed the federal government’s still controversial June 1990 decision to list the northern spotted owl as a threatened species – controversial because there is no scientific consensus as to what, if anything, can be done to slow the precipitous decline in owl populations in the Pacific Northwest.

Many biologists still insist that the key to saving owls rests in keeping loggers out of federal forests wherein most spotted owls are found. Other biologists believe that reducing stand density in overstocked federal forests will greatly enhance owl habitat and, over time, owl populations.

What has become clear over the last 28 years is that, while logging in old growth Douglas-fir forests in Oregon, Washington and northern California] contributed to the bird’s decline, it was far from the only factor. Predatory barred owls were also decimating spotted owl populations. But nothing has had a greater impact on owl recovery than the annual loss of millions of acres of owl habitat in stand-replacing wildfires – a colossal management failure caused by colossal congressional failure.

The Internet was very new when my essay appeared in Evergreen Magazine. Cell phones came in brief-case-size bags, and even a few calls could set you back $600 a month. Most of us relied on land lines and FAX machines, and our computers were slow and clunky desktop models that took forever to start. Affordable laptops were still years away. Evergreen didn’t have a website, but our twice-a-month reports reached about 100,000 readers across these United States. Today, we probably reach about the same number on our website.

Collaborative forest restoration groups did not exist then, but Evergreen had a sizeable grass roots following, and it was a very tired and demoralized grass roots movement that I hoped to encourage with my version of Sense of a Goose. Given all the wildfire-related discouragement that now crosses my desk most days, this seems like a good time for all of us to again learn how to fly like geese. I’ve done a little wordsmithing with this version in hopes of an easier read:

Next spring, when you see geese heading north for the summer, flying along in a “V” formation, you might want to consider what scientists have learned about why geese fly in formation.

As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in a “V” formation, not unlike the sweep of aircraft wings, the whole flock adds at least 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own.

People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going more quickly and easily by traveling on the thrust of one another, in their own version of the “V” formation geese use.

When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone, so it quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front.

If we have as much sense as geese have, we will stay in formation with those who are headed in the same direction – toward the same goals in our sights.

When the head goose gets tired, it rotates back in the “V” formation, and another goose takes the point position.

Likewise, it is sensible for people who take on demanding jobs to take turns with others in their group, just like geese in flight. We all need rest now and then.

Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to hold their speed. What messages of encouragement do we offer when we honk from behind?

Finally, when a goose gets sick or is wounded by gunshot, and falls out of formation, two other geese fall out with it and follow it down to earth to lend help, encouragement and protection. They stay with the fallen goose until it can fly again, or until it dies. Only then do they lift off on their own to join another group in hopes of eventually catching up their own group.

If we have the sense of a goose, we will stick by one another, no matter what.

Jim Petersen, Evergreen

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The Sense of a Goose
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The Sense of a Goose
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Many biologists still insist that the key to saving owls rests in keeping loggers out of federal forests wherein most spotted owls are found. Other biologists believe that reducing stand density in overstocked federal forests will greatly enhance owl habitat and, over time, owl populations.
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Evergreen Magazine
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