I wake in the early morning and hear them, their faint chatter like farmyard dogs, somewhere at the edge of my sleep, somewhere across the sedge-filled fields. It is in the hours of semi-light that they are on the move, crepuscular and marginal, filling the edges of our hearing like a conversation we once had and almost forgot. Their filigree skeins cross the lightening sky; the loose line of barnacle geese, the neat V of Canada geese, the multiple strings of pink-feet.
Geese arrive in the dark months of autumn; from Greenland, from Iceland, from Svalbard. They bring the scent of ice and snow on their wings, a sense of otherness, their tales of the north told in muted honks. Their journey across the northern Atlantic seems heroic: over a thousand miles in three days without landfall, no features but the cold ocean.
They gather on fields of sedge and winter wheat, feeding hungrily after their long journeys, or on the low rush-filled marshes by the side of the lake, staring glassy-eyed towards the north as though dreaming of their summer grounds. Throughout the winter skein after skein drops onto these crowded wetlands, until the numbers dizzy the mind: ten thousand, twenty thousand, until the sky is scarred with their arriving.
As spring thaws the sodden ground, at the point when we are accustomed to the presence of these huge, exotic birds, the North-bound compass of their brains will start to flicker, as though scenting the melting of snows thousands of miles away, and they will leave. They will rise in clusters and loose lines, honking from the sedge, their improbable wings unfolding on the solidity of the air. Slipping into a formation remembered rather than understood, they will beat across the surface of the lake, unhurried in their memory of leaving.