Saturday, May 26, 2012

Prom Night for Wawas

I was on my way home from the grocery store yesterday afternoon/early evening when I passed not one but two stretch limousines, the big kind, Escalades or whatever. The second one was on my road, backing into a driveway, alongside of which were parked several cars.  After a couple of “what the heck” seconds, I recognized this tradition: it’s that thing where high school seniors all gather in somebody’s front yard so their parents can take pictures of them wearing tuxedos and dresses that they will never wear again. The dads all say, “Way to go, son!” and the moms all cry because they think this event signifies the passage of their offspring into responsible adulthood. After the camera batteries die, the boys awkwardly help their dates into the limo, and off they go to some expensive banquet hall, eat a mediocre meal, and dance to whatever kids think is music these days. It’s called “prom,” an ancient ritual that takes its name from a Cherokee word for “expensive.”

When I arrived at my driveway, I saw something much less elegant but equally intriguing. Our house is about a quarter mile from the road, and our driveway runs through our neighbor’s yard. The couple that moved into the house in front of ours a few years ago is comprised of the world’s crankiest woman and a man who is probably too scared to ditch her. If anyone’s car moves faster than 5 mph on our driveway, the woman screams bloody murder and catapults horse manure at them, so every time I come and go, I enjoy a very slow cruise past a pleasant pond on one side, a field with 2 beautiful horses on the other. By the pond, I almost always see a flock of Canada geese, or what the former inhabitants of this land, the Lenni Lenape people, used to call “wawa” – a catchy onomatopoeia that eventually became the namesake of our area’s most beloved, ubiquitous convenience store.

Well, last night, the adult wawas were running around frantically as I drove past them. They usually seem a bit scared of our big, noisy motor vehicles, and understandably so; but this was different. They weren’t just moving away from my gas-guzzling (not proud to say it) Blazer; they were running in several directions, heads turning left and right, honking/wawa-ing – I know it sounds weird coming from a non-ornithologist, but they looked more anxious than usual. Then I noticed something strange: the younglings were missing. The geese had produced a bunch of adorable little goslings just a few weeks ago, and just last week I noticed that these wawas were already in their adolescent stage: no longer cute, fuzzy, and yellow, but not yet the brown, black, and white birds of flight they will soon become. But last night I didn’t see a single one. Occasionally a fox will grab one and drag it off into the woods for teatime; but last night, there was not a single young goose in sight.

That’s when it hit me: maybe geese have proms of their own. Sure, they don’t rent limos and fancy clothes, and they probably don’t buy those flower things that girls wear on their wrists (do wings have wrists?) that match the boys’ corsages; but they probably swim down the creek, possibly with a chaperone or two, and do a more sexually unbridled style of dancing to whatever geese think is music – tree frogs and beetles playing the soundtrack of their little goosey lives. It’s their final fling before taking on the adult responsibilities of migration, finding their own fish, laying eggs and hissing at anything that comes anywhere near the nest. It’s a future that looks nowhere near as fun as college, so let’s hope they had the time of their lives last night.

Prom night for geese: maybe it’s another one of my dumb ideas; but if you’ve seen a wawa doing the waddle of shame this morning, now you know why.

Two chaperones escort young gosling Ryan out of the banquet hall after catching him with a flask of Grey Goose.