Jenny Burman Jenny Burman
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Theroux's goose


Photo: November 2006
By Martin Cox

A certain amount of "space" in Chicken Corner -- or should I say "time" -- has been devoted to geese: mugger geese, Chinese geese, a semi-rare Ross's goose. Then I fly away to Washington, D.C., all set to think about...other things, and what do I catch out of the corner of my eye? Geese. Two of them on the cover of the December 2006 issue of Smithsonian Magazine, decorated with the name of Paul Theroux, who raises geese in Hawaii. Who knew? (December issue yet available online.) The cover geese look just like the pair who have nipped at my ankles near the Echo Park Lake lotus bed -- you may know them if you are a devotee of the lake: smaller than many of the others, white, with orange bulbs the size of ping-pong balls on their heads and elegant carriage in the water that makes them seem almost like swans, but if you have food then watch out: they'll be coming at you. They are harmless, but it's disconcerting. Nowadays when my two-year-old sees a picture of a goose or duck she announces "That one's not gonna get me." And I tell her, for the twentieth of fiftieth time, that no goose will ever hurt her. I am tempted to tell her "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," but it's not true.

In any case, Theroux raises geese. He seems to find them more amiable than his one-time mentor V.S. Naipaul. In Smithsonian, Theroux makes an argument against anthropomorphising animals. (Because it's a barrier to understanding their world.) My question is whether we are correct to anthropormphize the creatures who have created the "natural" conditions at Echo Park Lake: the oil scum and trash in the water, the pet store turtles that over-breed, the abandoned pet ducks, the turtles who have been hooked in the neck by fishing-people. Etc.

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