This is the longer text of my script which was broadcast on RTE Radio One, Sunday Miscellany on 14 November 2021.
A link to the programme is here https://www.rte.ie/radio/radio1/clips/22029731/
It’s in November I hear them first. It begins as an echo so faint I wonder if I’m wishing it into reality or if it is, in fact, real. I rush into the garden and scan the skies. Where are they? The sound grows a little stronger. My eye catches movement, to the north. And then I see them, descending slowly in their usual raggy formation. Tears prick my eyes, and I’m glad I’m alone, so I don’t have to try to explain why this sight and sound makes me emotional. But this is a homecoming and homecomings are the most delicious reunions.
Flying low, they establish that all is in order in their field behind my house, before dipping their wings as they execute a slow motion, soft landing on the grass. As they do, they disappear from my view. But they are back. They are safely home.
I want to rush onto the field to which I have no access, to welcome them. My Brent Geese are back. I’d been worrying, as I do, every year, that they wouldn’t get here. Every year, thankfully I am wrong.
My geese have flown from the high Arctic in Canada where they breed during the summer months. They are the most northerly breeding geese in the world. As the tundra descends into an icy winter, the Brent Geese begin their epic journey south to milder weather which the vast majority of them find in Ireland. They travel via Greenland and Iceland before arriving in Strangford Lough, County Down where they rest before most make their way on to their chosen locations around Ireland, a great many in around Dublin.
November melts into December. Deep winter. Darkness falls in the middle of the afternoon and the city and its suburbs become bright with twinkly lights. Trees are bare skeletons, and the ground is hard with frost. The earth sleeps. And still more geese arrive. Above the suburban noise of traffic and sirens, the familiar guttural honking heralds their daily commute to their field.
Once they’re on the ground I can get a view of them from an upstairs bedroom. I watch as they move slowly, heads down enjoying the grass on which they graze all day. I wish I could talk to them. I have so many questions. What was the summer like in Canada? Have they ever seen a polar bear? How was their incredible journey over the Atlantic Ocean? But all I can do is watch them from a distance, and wonder at their grace and elegance.
In January, the year will turn. It will be cold and bitter. Nature will sleep on and still more geese will arrive, creating an airborne spectacle twice a day. If undisturbed, they will spend the day on the field, until the sun’s milky light begins to fade and they depart in a mighty flock, heading north out over Dublin Bay to the Bull Island where they will spend the night on the calm waters of the lagoon. It is in January that I will make a pilgrimage northside, arriving ahead of sunset to witness the incredible spectacle as thousands of Brent Geese, spill in from all over the city, their grey dipped wings silhouetted against a burnt orange sky.
February will bringthe first real signs of the long-awaited springtime. Snowdrops will be joined by crocus, wood anemone and dandelions, splashing colour on our gardens and roadsides. By spring, my Brent Geese may number well over six hundred.
All winter, my days will be punctuated by their comings and goings and each time they take my breath away. As I work in my cabin in the garden, my geese are just beyond the hedge chomping on the grass. Their presence is soothing. Despite all the chaos of life in the city, they return every year, the same geese to the same field. A playing field that’s now been sold, with plans for hundreds of apartments in the new year. Although there’s a campaign underway to save the sports ground, this winter could be the geese’s last on the school pitches where they share their habitatwith urban foxes, bats, curlew and egrets.
As Covid swept the world, grounding us and causing us to miss family abroad, my geese continued to make their perilous crossing of the Atlantic to come home. I cling to the hope and to the promise of better days they bring with them.
Once springtime takes a firm hold of our world, my geese will begin to leave again. By late April they will all be gone. And I will be left pondering on these wonderous, magnificent birds with their silent stories. As I do, I wonder if somewhere deep in the Canadian tundra, there is another woman who is waiting expectantly for the return of her geese now that her Arctic winter has softened. And I wonder if her eyes tear up when she first hears that special honking sound in the distance.