The frosty December morning began with the honking of passing Canada geese.
Unlike winter adventures, which begin before the sun comes up, I slept in, brewed a fresh cup of coffee, and read the morning paper.
There would be no tugging on insulated waders to trudge through the mud, the cruel north wind brings tears to my eyes.
No frozen fingers and no crouching behind slumped cattails and bulrushes to give unsuspecting waterfowl a chance.
My hunt would begin early noon in a good friend’s backyard.
The chance to bag a Christmas goose came to me like a free lottery ticket in the mail.
“You wouldn’t be interested in a geese or two, would you?” said Diana. I peered over her shoulder at a cyclone fence where a flock of Pomeranian saddle geese was gathering.
Her offer sparked a childhood memory of a neighbor with a double-bited ax in hand and a headless chicken roaming the barnyard.
Two or three times each winter, when a thick layer of fog settled over the surface of the Columbia River, I would return home from work as a fisherman at Hanford Reach with a fat mallard.
Birds had been shot from a sea curtain and found floating down the river out of reach of a Labrador retriever. These events happened decades in the past, when free food is free food if you only make $150 a week.
But what I remember most is the majestic Canada goose that we fished out of the river with a net. A good excuse for holiday bliss, I thought as I plucked it clean. Soft breast feathers waved in a cool breeze as neighborhood children gathered to watch.
Six bachelor friends from my softball team showed up for the late fall dinner, each with a side or libation to share. We enjoyed dark, stringy goose, baked salmon, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream.
Geese are the noblest of all feathered chickens. Unlike the promiscuous mallard, they mate for life.
The annual migration can cover hundreds of kilometers, from northern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Snow geese gather in huge flocks at the McNary Wildlife Refuge each winter, with the occasional blue goose mingling.
Having flown over hunter’s blinds in a Cessna-170 on aerial footage of salmon fishing, I can attest that any passing Canada goose with good eyesight can tell the difference between natural coastal vegetation and hastily constructed camouflage nets.
I read mother goose nursery rhymes to our kids. “Goosey, Goosey, Gander” was a favorite lyric. My grandma Laura often served a roast goose for Christmas dinner.
A bird culled from a small flock that grazed next to their trout-filled farm pond. I had dealt with upland game shot in the field and processed quail, pheasant and duck for the dinner table.
Chickens cull the flock meant to wring your neck. In the case of a free-range domestic goose, bloodletting would be required, a task more difficult than fat-boning a salmon.
Which suggests that naming an animal you want to eat is never a good idea. Ted and I arrived around noon to find a nervous flock of geese.
Since our hosts wanted to keep the dominant gander and lady, separating two yearling geese from the huddled group was not easy. Neither was the shipping.
There’s no easy way to say it. Captive birds were stunned and bled as gently as possible. Being held by their wings and feet as if resigned to their fate helped them remain docile.
Perhaps thinking about the party gooses, Nancy’s had reminded them, “Don’t skin your goose. The meat will be dry if we don’t cook it all the way through.”
Her decree resulted in an hour of picking in Ted’s backyard. Birds were first dipped in boiling water to loosen the feathers. Then an ice bath to cool down. The arduous work of plucking continued until each bird appeared ready for the supermarket.
Which was a reminder of why most athletes breast their waterfowl.
There is a certain satisfaction in imagining that one can live off the land. While preparing food harvested in the field and stream – or in a friend’s country backyard.
Goose dressing is enhanced with apples sourced from gnarled trees that grow near our cabin. Winter broccoli, dug potatoes from the garden, and smoked whitefish are sure to complement each other as family members gather to give thanks with a blessing.
After all, isn’t sharing nature’s bounty what the Christmas season is all about?
Local author Dennis Dauble has written five books on fish and angling including the newly released memoir Chasing Ghost Trout. Learn more at DennisDaubleBooks.com.
This story was originally published December 13, 2021 2:33 p.m.