I followed the trail up through a pine forest towards a peak, when it began to snow.
The snow became so heavy that I was forced to descend.
Battling wind and cold rain, I came to the outskirts of a village.
On an unsealed road, wet and muddy, I saw water flooding down channels between the houses; the sound filled the air and voices seemed to come from nowhere.
Rounding a bend, I passed a small shop.
Opposite was a blunt looking concrete hall, communist- era heritage. The door was open and the air filled with the sound of men singing. I peered through a window and saw 20, 30 men sitting either side of a long wooden table, tankards of beer in front of them.
They seemed to know the words and tune to the song by heart – they sang in near perfect harmony.
A little later, I was brought to a halt by another kind of singing: a loud clacking and honking.
Spanning the road was a large flock of geese. They were white geese, with orange beaks. They looked elegant in the grey and the rain.
They seemed strangely excited.
There was no one around. No one seemed to be leading them or herding them (herders are a common sight in Romania). But they must have been domesticated geese. Wild geese would never choose a village backstreet to land in.
Had these geese escaped from their compound?
Irresistibly lured outside by the rain and the sound of the swelling waters in the nearby creeks?
I stood there and watched them, engulfed in their music.
I edged around them.
They stayed where they were, in no mood to go anywhere.
At Schiphol Amsterdam Airport – there was a problem with geese.
I don’t need to tell you that a decent sized flock of geese in the air can present a real danger to planes landing and taking off.
And I suppose I don’t need to add that Schiphol is one of the busiest airports in the world.
What I probably doneed to tell you is that The Netherlands is a paradise for geese.
You’d almost think that centuries ago, when the Dutch began reclaiming their country from the waters, they did so in order to create a Goose Paradise.
Yep, geese love this country.
Water, grass, flat; water lying in pools on grassy ground; water in canals and lakes.
Water the geese can gather upon to keep safe from enemies. Watery grass they can eat.
The best, the richest, the greenest grass in the world which feeds the cows which provide the milk which becomes the best cheese in the world.
The cows love the grass – but so do the geese.
The Netherlands: think windmills, dykes, cheese, Rembrandt, Vermeer….and geese.
Grey geese, snow geese, Nile geese, Canadian geese….to name a few.
In the geese paradise, there are inevitably problems with overpopulation. Big geese make little geese and when everything looks good, like it does in paradise, then the big geese tend to make a lot of little geese. In the past, the farmers used to shoot them. Good sport and all that. This has been banned for a long time now. These days, if a farmer has a problem with the geese, for example hundreds of them descending on his property and eating the grass which is meant for his cows, then he is compensated by the government for his potential losses. This is also very Dutch. A bureaucrat visits the property, assesses the numbers of geese resident on the property (how are such calculations made? With a goose-ometer?) and on this basis decides the amount of the compensation.
When it comes to the geese overpopulation problem at Schiphol Amsterdam Airport however, compensation doesn’t enter into it.
Removal is the only option.
The land surrounding Schiphol Airport and its runways is flat, watery, grass-rich and swampy after a good rain. The geese love it. They don’t care about the noise.
A few years ago, a point came when the Schiphol Airport authorities decided to cull their numbers. Research revealed that netting and gassing the geese was the most humane way of doing this.
Hey, but not so fast!
Kill thousands of geese?
The animal liberationists raised their collective voice – and loud!
Ok said the government, you find some other way to get them away from Schiphol Airport.
They tried, the animal liberationists.
They tried lots of things.
Plastic replicas of hawks and other birds of prey were set in place in order to scare the geese away.
Then real birds of prey were brought in and released.
Maybe the geese figured that there was safety in numbers.
Buddhist monks appeared and issued incantations. That must have been an interesting spectacle, especially with the constant roar of jet planes in the background.
Other things were tried but I forget what they were.
All I know is that everything failed.
Only one option left: to trap the geese inside movable mesh fences – and gas them.
Thousands of them have to be regularly removed.
Gassing the Schiphol geese however solved one problem but created another.
What to do with the goose meat?
Sell it to restaurants and supermarkets? Make a tidy profit?
There was a lot of discussion and debate. That also is typically Dutch. Whether its the liberal drug policies, voluntary euthanasia, legalised prostitution – to name a few – its always accompanied by endless rounds of talking and disagreeing.
A consensus was finally reached.
The goose meat would be donated to charities, in particular: the food banks, accessed by people on unemployment benefits – and the shelters for the homeless.
A very Dutch solution: equity, charity and social justice.
Helping those at the bottom of the socio-economic shake-down.
Many of those at the bottom of that Dutch socio-economic shake-down ‘belong to a foreign culture’ to use the politically correct term. They are immigrants and refugees; some of them fleeing war and violence, others fleeing poverty, and still others drawn by the lure of a western welfare state.
What a strange world we are living in!
The geese at Schiphol Airport are gassed so that every day, hundreds of planes can transport 250,000 people from all over the world in and out of The Netherlands.
At the other end of the Schiphol food chain, goose meat is used to help feed immigrants living the lower socio economic areas of the big cities; people on a very different journey.
In the meantime, an innocuous bird thriving in Goose Paradise is trapped inside mesh fences and thereby caught up in a chain of human made complexities, of a surrealistic world where the skies are filled with metal birds and the ground is filled with human beings from a hundred different places.
Schiphol Geese: truly a symbol of our globalised world.
See following link for photos of geese at Schiphol: