Monday, April 1, 2019

Review: Papa Goose by Michael Quetting

When I worked at a lake as a lifeguard, one of our duties was to clean up the beach before opening and by far the most common thing we came across to clean up was goose poop. If a flock of geese had been on the beach that morning, the beach was a disgusting slick of green and white goose pellets. We face the same problem in the summer in the yard at the cottage. Goose dung everywhere. Besides the prolific pooping, I've honestly never thought very much about geese and I certainly never considered them as individual creatures with unique personalities or as important subjects in any sort of scientific experiment. If anything, I considered them an annoyance at best and a scourge at worst. But for a year, Michael Quetting, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, considered them his family as he raised seven geese from egg to adulthood, a task chronicled in the memoir Papa Goose.

In an effort to find out information about bird (goose) flight mechanics and aerodynamics and real time atmospheric conditions, Michael Quetting fathered seven greylag geese from before their birth, when he talked to them in their incubator to get them used to his voice, to almost a year old.  The geese were raised so that they could eventually be fitted with data loggers to provide scientists with this information.  Quetting was careful to have the small balls of down imprint on him, becoming their acknowledged parent. He describes all aspects of their lives together from their vulnerable youngest days, their development of individual personalities, their learning to fly, and finally to the days that each of them finally leaves his care for the wider world. The story is one of joy, contemplation, and frustration. Quetting documents the daily life of the goslings, sharing the soft, sleepy whistles they make when tired, the snoozing with their papa goose, the happy swimming, their contented dandelion eating, and more. Being with the birds causes him to slow down in his own life and to look at what is important. Of course the experiment, the reason he is raising these seven little creatures is always in the background, at the very least, but even in raising them towards a goal, he finds immense happiness, like the day all seven geese fly with him for the first time, following him in his ultralight. Quetting doesn't shy away from the difficulties he encounters, from a recalcitrant gander to the constant loads of goose poo but through it all, his heart shines through.  He does anthropomorphize the geese occasionally, imagining what they think of him, the horn he uses to call them, and the things he asks of them.  The story is quite sweet and simple in the telling and will likely appeal to animal lovers of all kinds.

Thanks to the LibraryThing Early Reviewers and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

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