Andrea and Gus

Hunting for waterfowl doesn’t always result in dinner.

A young Peter Huntington feeds Andrea, the goose with one wing, by Look’s Pond in West Tisbury.
Shirley Mayhew

Johnny was a sport fisherman when I married him in 1947. After we acquired a golden retriever puppy in 1951, he began to think about hunting as an off-season sport. We lived on Look’s Pond in West Tisbury, and we loved watching the ducks and geese fly into the pond every spring and fall. They would announce their arrival with much honking, and the children would rush outside to watch them cup their wings as they glided onto the still water. Jack and Deborah would stand on the shore and throw small pieces of bread out to them, but they were wild and wouldn’t come close.

Our dog Buff was several years old when Johnny actually took him duck hunting for the first time, and although retrievers have a natural instinct to retrieve, they do not necessarily associate the sound of a shotgun with retrieving an object. It takes some training. A friend had given Johnny a used 12-gauge shotgun, and he set off early one October morning with gun and dog, heading for Tisbury Great Pond. His hunting blind was between Tisbury Great Pond and Black Point Pond, about three or four miles from our home. The weather was overcast, with possible rain in the forecast, but bad weather was considered good hunting weather, so he was looking forward to a good shoot. To my surprise, Buff arrived home shortly thereafter, but without Johnny. The dog had panicked when the gun went off behind him for the first time, and he hightailed it for the safety of home.

After this inglorious beginning, Johnny spent some time with Buff, getting him used to not only the sound of the gun, but the fact that it meant he should leap into the cold water and bring back whatever was out there. It was embarrassing for Johnny when he missed his shot, and Buff swam around in circles in the pond trying to find something to bring back. It is difficult to make a dog understand that not every shot means a retrievable duck or goose. Although it took several hunting trips for Buff to learn his job, he developed into a good hunting partner for Johnny, and we enjoyed the dinners they provided. Johnny’s two cousins, John and Everett Whiting, were hunters, as were several of his friends, but Stan Murphy was his favorite hunting companion, and they enjoyed many early mornings in the duck blind together. Although it was considered a sport back in the fifties and sixties, it was also important as a food source for many hunters.

Although I loved eating the birds, I did not like to see them dead, and I flat out refused to look at them until they were ready for the oven. This meant that Johnny had to pluck them and gut them as well as shoot them. One of his hunting buddies just handed the dead goose to his wife, and she did all the dirty work. Was I a bad wife? It was difficult enough for me to admire the Canada geese that spent a lot of time on Look’s Pond in front of our house, and then turn around and eat them. I didn’t want to have to go through the process of turning a majestic goose into a bloody carcass in order to have a good meal.

One October morning in 1958, Johnny and Buff left early to hunt on Tisbury Great Pond. This time, they returned not with a dead Canada goose but with a live one. Johnny had made a poor shot and hit the goose in the wing. It went down in the brush, and this time Johnny retrieved it. Once in his hands, he couldn’t bring himself to finish it off, so he brought it home alive, thinking he might let it go on our pond. But when he examined it more closely, he realized that the wing was useless – it would never heal.

Johnny built an enclosure with chicken wire, half in the pond and half on the land. He then cut off the irreparably damaged wing, and put the goose into the enclosure along with some corn for it to eat. After several days, when it became apparent that the goose would recover, even without a usable wing, he removed the chicken wire, thus releasing the goose into the pond.

At this point, our son Jack was nine years old, and daughters Deborah and Sarah were seven and three. They were delighted to have a pet goose, although it took awhile before the goose was delighted to be a pet. But it wasn’t long before she realized that she was on the water and being fed regularly. The children insisted on giving the bird a name, and for a reason I can no longer remember, she (he?) became Andrea.

Andrea, being a smart goose, soon embraced us as her new family and became quite brave in approaching any of us to accept her daily corn out of our hands. I could sit on the bench near the waterfall with Buff on one side and Andrea on the other. They too had made their peace and adopted their roles as comrades. Unable to fly, Andrea seemed to accept her earthbound life. And Buff came to realize that this goose was off-limits for retrieving.

Winter, spring, and summer passed, and when fall came around, the geese began to land in our pond where the feeding was easy because the pond is shallow. One day a lone goose peeled down into the pond near Andrea. It had a broken wing. Had the word gotten out that Look’s Pond was the place to go if your wing got broken? The goose was unable to take off when the other geese left and proceeded to become our second pet goose. We named him Gus, and hoped that he was of the opposite sex from Andrea. We imagined a happy domestic life for them on our pond, raising a family to bring to the shore to be fed.

Alas, it was not to be. They spent the winter together, companionably, but one spring morning we were awakened by a lot of honking. We looked out onto the pond and saw that Gus was trying out his wings. The broken one had apparently healed, and he was eager to get into the sky. It was heart-rending to watch him try to get Andrea to follow his lead. He would flap his wings alongside her until he was airborne, and when he realized she was not with him, he would return and land on the water beside her. Poor Andrea wanted to go with him – she flapped her wing-and-a-half but only succeeded in going around in circles. Finally Gus took off a final time, circled, but did not return to Andrea. Because all Canada geese look alike, we never knew whether we saw him again.

Andrea accepted her loss, remained friendly with all of us, and continued to swim around the pond until the winter cold froze it over. Then she followed the brook down toward State Road, under the bridge, perhaps to Tisbury Great Pond, where the water world was larger. Although we enjoyed having Andrea on our pond, and all of us, including Johnny, were very fond of her, he continued to hunt the geese and ducks to provide good meals for us.

Years later, Johnny could no longer sit in a damp duck blind for several hours in the hopes of bringing home dinner. But our friend Peter Huntington – who as a little boy had come over to feed Andrea and then grew up to be a hunter himself – would occasionally bring us a duck or goose, thankfully all ready for the oven.