BRIDGEPORT — I began the night with a run around the neighborhood and ended up with a bleeding goose in a box on my kitchen floor.
One recent evening, I took part in an effort to try to capture that goose with a net on a muddy hill. I was with a group of people I’d met minutes before.
That goose might've been cooked, but some volunteers and I set out to save the day. In the end, the experience taught me a lesson about the danger of fish hooks in urban parks and the moxie of a bird most people take for granted.
But most of all I learned about the power of community in a city like Chicago.
So let me tell you about the night I became coordinator of an effort I can only describe as "Operation Goose Rescue."
It was Friday, March 18, just before dark at Henry Palmisano Park. I was near the end of a post-work jog around the hood.
On the west side of the park, where the sidewalk splits in two directions, I did something I never do: I took a right and ran toward the fishing pond.
Trotting along the concrete path between a stretch of metal handrails, I bumped into Jane.
“Excuse me, sir,” she said.
I stopped running.
“Can you help me?"
A native of China who moved to Bridgeport more than a decade ago, Jane was shooting photographs of birds by the pond when she discovered the bleeding goose.
"It's hurt," she said.
Luckily, I knew who to call: Bird Collision Monitors, the volunteer group that rescues birds all over the city.
About a month ago, the group's director Annette Prince helped me with a story about a bald eagle electrocuted on a South Side power line.
It was after 5 p.m. when I called her.
She said she would try to send a volunteer to help.
In the meantime, the more details I could gather about the bird’s injuries, the better.
I stood over the goose and studied it. The bird didn't move much. For a moment, I thought it was dead. Then I noticed its ribcage expand with breath.
I couldn’t tell what was wrong with the goose.
Not until I crouched next to the quiet creature — too close for its comfort — and the goose thrashed its head, revealing the problem.
A fishing hook on a piece of broken line pierced its wing and got stuck in its beak.
Blood covered its mouth and feathers.
The hook pinned the goose’s head to its body. He couldn't straighten his head to look forward or swim toward his flying friends — another goose and a duck floating in the nearby water.
He twisted his body back and forth in a violent battle to break free. It was difficult to watch.
Then the goose jumped in the water, and Jane gasped.
Thankfully, the goose could swim just fine. After it dunked its own head underwater trying to break loose, the goose paddled to a log and hopped out of the water to rest on the shore.
My phone rang. It was Annette Prince calling for an update.
I told her about the fishing hook. It was a story she had heard many times before.
The byproducts of fishing at urban parks are dangerous ones: Broken lines and stainless steel hooks like the one that trapped the goose in this story.
“There’s hundreds of pounds of this stuff in the environment wreaking havoc,” Prince said.
Bird Collision Monitors gets many reports of birds that can’t get loose from hooks that pinned their beaks shut. If they aren't found or reported, these birds often starve to death.
We hung up, and Prince got back to searching for rescue volunteers to help us.
Jane needed to go back home to tell her husband what was going on. She planned to check in and return to the pond as soon as she could.
I agreed to stay.
The day lurched toward sundown, and the temperature dropped.
I waited with the goose, hoping help would soon show up.
For a long time, the goose sat in the dirt at the base of the quarry, two towering stone walls looming over each side of the pond.
The goose was tired from fighting so long, I thought.
To stay warm, I ran up and down the fishing pond’s rock staircase until my cell phone rang.
It was Nancy Bigelow, a local teacher and bird rescue volunteer. She said she’d ride her bike to the pond as soon as she could — but there were a couple things I should know:
Her cellphone was dead, and she didn’t have a net.
What she did have was a small box and a red umbrella. With limited resources, volunteer rescuers have to be creative in the field.
I gave Bigelow the best directions I could. She was just down the road, riding from a school at Ashland Avenue and Cermak Road.
My phone buzzed again. This time it was Suzanne Verret, another bird rescue volunteer. She’d be on the scene shortly with some useful equipment: A box, two nets and Cheerios.
For the first time all night, I felt a sense of relief, even if the rescue was far from over.
Minutes later, Jane and her husband arrived with a bag of their own equipment: A towel and scissors — just in case.
I updated them with the good news: Help is on the way.
By this time, the goose was fighting the hook again, thrashing and throwing itself into the water.
“Get out of there,” James said, fearing the bird would drown.
The goose paddled out of the water and waddled into the dirt, where it bashed itself against the quarry’s walls.
I kept a lookout for a woman on a bicycle.
Nancy Bigelow soon appeared at the top of the hill, rolling along the sidewalk. A box and umbrella sat on the back of her bike.
On her jacket she had pinned a blue Bernie Sanders campaign button.
My phone rang again with another call from Suzanne Verret, the Louisiana-born volunteer with two nets and a box of Cheerios. She was in her car near the park entrance and didn’t know where to find the pond.
I ran up the hill to meet her.
She grabbed her box of equipment and closed the hatchback door. We walked down the hill toward our makeshift cadre, and I started telling Verret about the goose.
She looked surprised:
“It’s a goose?"
She came prepared for a duck.
The small detail got mixed up somewhere along the line.
Her box would be too small to transport a goose. I’d learn this lesson later: The bigger the box, the better.
Near the water, I took an accounting of our tools: Two nets (one medium and one small), a bag of Cheerios, a large red umbrella, two small boxes, a shirt and a towel.
We didn't know what combination of items would get the job done. The art of volunteer bird rescue, it seemed, is doing very much with very little.
Bigelow and Verret considered fashioning their boxes together to make a bigger box. Then James said he might have a bigger box in the car but his box turned out to be the smallest box of all.
I piped up: I had a big box at my apartment a few blocks away, but it needed some minor reconstructive surgery to make it strong enough for a goose.
The sun dipped lower. We began to lose light.
“We need to work fast,” Verret said.
Someone would have to slowly walk up to the goose with a net and make sure it did not thrash into the water, where it would likely drown if the rescue failed.
That someone with a net would be me.
Bigelow walked to the top of the muddy hill that sloped toward the pond. A group of geese gathered in a nearby field liked winged spectators. We hoped our injured goose pal would see his buddies and walk toward them.
Before I knew it, I was trudging through the mud.
One step at a time, I inched closer and closer to the goose.
Closer and closer.
About three feet from the goose, the hurting bird spotted me and thrashed so hard the fishing line snapped, freeing its head from its wing.
If the goose gained enough speed, it could fly away.
The goose bolted up the hill.
Nancy crouched down and walked toward the running bird. I chased close behind with the net.
For a moment I felt silly going after this ornery little goose.
The cadre closed in, and the rest was a blur until Jane’s husband, James, stepped in and tossed a towel on the goose.
Nancy wrapped the bird in the black towel. Turns out, if you bend a goose’s head and tuck it under its wing, it goes limp.
Operation Goose Rescue was complete. Or so I thought.
Verret told me the next part of the plan:
“You’ll need to carry the goose to my car so we can drive to your apartment,” she said.
GOOSE OVER THE GOAL LINE
Though I had never done it before, the feeling of carrying a goose under my arm was not totally unfamiliar.
Walking along the sidewalk toward Verret’s hatchback, I thought about playing fullback at St. Laurence High School. As the smell of fresh-cut grass often transports me back to the gridiron, holding the goose reminded me of carrying a football.
Only this football had a heartbeat, weighed about 12 pounds and offered an occasional kick of discomfort.
It was time to say goodbye to Jane, James and Nancy — the unlikely crew behind Operation Goose Rescue.
I told Jane I’m happy I ran into her on my run.
“I’m so happy I met you,” she said, and I promised to update her on what happened to the goose.
With the goose tucked under my arm, its feet cupped in my hand, I could feel the goose’s warmth and breathing. I learned later the move is actually called a “football hold.”
I would not be rushing anywhere.
We walked by some neighborhood kids hanging out by the park’s pull-up bar. “What did you catch?” a bespectacled boy asked.
“A goose,” I said. “It got a fishing hook stuck in its mouth.”
“Oh...” the boy said.
Verret opened the passenger door of her hatchback, the cleanest car I ever saw.
“I don’t want any goose poop in my car,” she told me.
I slowly stepped in the car and Verret closed the door. There was no way I’d be able to slip on a seat belt, but Verret promised to drive extra carefully.
By the time we reached my apartment, my biceps was burning.
I handed Verret the bird so I could unlock my apartment with the key attached to the draw string of my gym shorts. Inside, I sent Verret to to my kitchen while I got the damaged box from my office.
In the kitchen, Verret handed me the goose, and she went to work putting the box back together.
She set the box on the floor and opened it. I slowly put the goose in the box and Verret shut the flaps.
The goose flapped its wings.
For the first time, I felt the bird's power. Verret taped the flaps several times until the box felt sturdy enough for the long journey to the bird doctor.
Before I knew it, we were shutting the hatch on Verret’s car.
I thanked her for taking part in the rewarding rescue. We shook hands, and she was off to deliver the goose to the veterinarian.
INTO THE WILD
The day after Operation Goose Rescue, I was in my weekly improv class at The Playground Theater.
My phone rang with a call from Verret.
On the journey to the bird doctor at the Willowbrook Wildlife Center, she said, the goose managed to re-hook its beak to its foot.
The doctors were able to remove most of the hook, patch up the cuts and put the goose on antibiotics to fight infection.
It looked like the goose would be OK.
A week later, on Friday, March 25, a rescue crew took the goose to the DuPage County Forest Preserve and released it.
With the good news from Verret, I walked inside the theater and let my classmates know the final status of Operation Goose Rescue:
"The goose is going to be OK."
Here's a video shot by Jane, the woman who found the goose:
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