Al Batt: Caught on 35mm film: when geese attack

Published 9:12 am Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Sunday and Wednesday.

It was the spring of the year.

It had the makings of a good old day.

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I knew what I was doing, but I did it anyway.

I was visiting Rochester, calling on a hospitalized relative. I had a cheap 35mm camera with me. It had two shots left in its roll of film. “Roll of film?” some of you are asking.

It’s photographic film rolled on a spool and encased before being loaded into a camera. This particular roll allowed me to take 24 photos. A peek through a tiny window on the camera indicated that I had two exposures remaining. I’d found the camera hiding in a desk drawer. I had no idea how long it had been there or what photos might already be on the roll, but I knew that I wanted to take two more so that the roll would be filled when I took it to the drugstore for developing.

There was a park where Canada geese hung out. The city promoted Canada geese as tourist attractions. I was sure there was no photo of a Canada goose lurking in my camera. I stopped at the park and armed only with a chintzy camera, walked towards a pair of geese loitering there. They looked like a nice couple. I didn’t want to pet one. I just wanted to get close enough for an award-winning photo. The camera had no zoom other than my feet. I used them to zoom in. I wanted a photo that the good folks at the drugstore would want to hang on the wall to give other customers something to shoot for. As I got closer, I remembered something. In the spring of the year, a camera to a goose is like waving a red flag at a bull. The geese hissed at me. I should have been a better listener. I made a crucial mistake. I made eye contact with a goose. I knew I shouldn’t, but I did it anyway. You don’t get as stupid as I am without practice.

One goose, the gander, didn’t paw the earth like a bull, but he lowered his head and charged me. I had no matador’s cape, so I took two quick photos. Extremely quick photos. I took them while running a serpentine pattern. There’s no way to do that and not look stupid. The gander came at me like a middle linebacker intent on making one of those bone-crushing tackles that are shown repeatedly on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” I made an executive decision. I’d retreat and live to take a photo of a goose another day. I ran for it. I was humbled and I didn’t want to tumble. I ran not because I was a big chicken. Let me rephrase that. I ran not only because I was a big chicken. I also ran because I’d been bitten by a gander before.

The Holland family had a giant domestic goose when I was a boy. He was a watch gander whose parents had been a vampire goose and a shark. When I visited the Hollands, I often showed up at mealtime. It was one of those coincidences that occurred again and again. The gander waited outside the front door of the house for me to come out with a full stomach after lunch. He knew that overeating left me slow and vulnerable. Then he’d attack. I hear people say that someone didn’t have a mean bone in his or her body. This gander had their share. I’d try to fight him off, but a kick only heightened his fury. Wearing shorts around that critter made for painful gander bites.

Back to the park. The gander gave chase while making honking sounds that put any banshee to shame. I jumped in my jalopy and drove a circuitous route home just in case the goose was following me. I hadn’t checked my rearview mirror that much since I’d passed my driver’s license test.

On my next trip to town, I stopped at the drugstore and left the roll of film to be developed. A few days later, I picked up the photos. Some turned out, some didn’t. One of the two that I’d taken of the goose had become a photo. It wasn’t perfect, but nothing is. It showed a webbed foot as if a goose was kicking someone out of a park. It was photojournalism at its finest.

I didn’t need the photo. I had the goose poop on the bottom of my shoes to remind me of the encounter.