A psychotherapist thinks out loud about Being Human, and stuff…

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.”
William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

I do not pretend to be an expert on the subject of love. Only a fool would do that and, while I have acted the fool in some circumstances and hope to again, I am not that foolish.

I have, however, learned a few things about love, both from my own experience of loving and my observations of other’s behavior. Let me tell you a story about love- this, of course, in honor of St. Valentine’s Day, just past.

Many years ago, when the world was young and my hair was long, DJ and I owned a funky, old, split window VW bus, festooned with Grateful Dead stickers. Our faith in that vehicle’s transportational abilities bordered on the delusional. With its tiny, four banger engine and it’s unpredictable electronics, it should never have been driven further than the nearest Dead show- if the show was here in Oakland. We convinced ourselves, however, that since it had wheels (one on each corner) and often started when we turned the key, we could drive it anywhere. As I said: delusional.

During this period of our lives, we were deeply involved in the support and maintenance of a spiritual retreat in the hills just North of Ukiah, California, which could only be reached by driving (after a long, slow freeway trip) on narrow, poorly maintained back country roads. These were not the country roads about which John Denver sang. These roads reflected the endless struggle between Man and Nature, and Nature was winning. We’re talking suspension breaking, tire busting, root jumping, car killing roads- and that was when they were dry. Given all that, and our state of mind at the time (you may feel free to speculate what that state might have been, given the era) it is not altogether surprising that our frail, overheated vehicle had a terminal seizure of some kind and gave up the ghost, halfway up a lovely, green hillside.

But that’s not what the story is about.

Something about the pooling oil under the car told us that this was not a bailing wire and duct tape fix; the car was going to have to be towed, somehow, to the nearest mechanic. How we hoodwinked a grumbling tow truck driver into coming into the hills and hauling our bus out is a story in itself. Suffice to say that we were towed to a local shade tree mechanic who, miraculously, had a spare VW engine in the back of his garage- and, finally, we’re reaching the story I’m telling, here.

In the mechanic’s front yard, was a large, grey goose. Also in the yard was a battered, blue, plastic cooler. When we commented on the goose (discarded coolers were too common in that neck of the woods to warrant comment), the mechanic said, “Ya want to see something funny?” We did. “Go on over and pick up that cooler”, said the mechanic, grinning evilly. Shrugging, I took a few steps toward the cooler- and the goose suddenly launched herself at me, neck outstretched, hissing wildly. This was a big goose, and she meant business, so I jumped back ten feet, while the mechanic had a good laugh. When he recovered, he told us the story I’m telling you.

It seems that, a few years previously, this goose had lived in that yard with her long-time mate. Geese, as you may know, bond for life, but a cruel fate (I admit I do not remember the details) took her mate from her. Upon her mate’s death, the goose seemed to have transferred her loyalty and affections to the old, blue cooler, perhaps because it was always in the yard they shared. She would not allow anyone to come near the cooler without rushing to defend it, perhaps for fear that the cooler, too, would be taken from her. Who can tell? Certainly, the mechanic told us, she never strayed more than a few yards from its side. No one, as long as she lived, was going to harm that cooler or take it from her.

So, what are we to make of this story- we, the creatures who assign meaning?

Like a Rorschach test, what you take from the story will depend on what you bring to it. If disappointment has made you cynical, you may find the goose’s behavior laughable. If love or loss has wounded you, the story may be painful. If, like me, you are a hopeless Romantic, you will find a moving nobility in the Goose’s fidelity. Perhaps the ways of the heart, avian or human, are too mysterious to be neatly classified at all. The possibilities are as numerous as the story’s readers. How do you receive it? Does it matter what or who you love, so long as you love? For that matter, is this love at all, or merely some kind of instinctive attachment, gone awry? Judge, and observe what your judgement says about you. May the insight serve you well.

As always, I welcome your comments , questions and shared experiences. Until we meet again (and may it be soon), Happy Trails to you!

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Comments on: "The Goose and the Blue Cooler: A Love Story" (9)

  1. Birds can love. I don’t know about reptiles, but we warm-blooded types (mammals and the descendents of the dinosaurs), we have the mental and emotional complications necessary to recognize and need Someone Else. The only thing that surprises me about this story is that it’s a *goose*, because geese are nasty mean birds. But maybe widowhood has driven her insane, so she clings to what symbolizes the happier past … it’s a lovely, sad story.

    My parrot Harry remained convinced through the whole month following Kage’s death that she was in her bathroom. He only stopped calling and searching when he and I moved from that place.

    • I do not doubt for a moment that, at least (as you say) us warm-blooded critters are all capable of love, affection and loyalty- whether or not they are conscious of holding those states. Last year, I lost a feline friend who loved me more deeply and devotedly than a cat is supposed to, and I returned that love. I suggest that the loving is the important thing. My friend (and ex-wife) whom you may remember, Hilary Ayer, once said, “Love is never easy, but it is never wrong”. I don’t know how it could be said better.

  2. Jon Berger said:

    This has nothing to do with love, geese, or coolers, but here’s the story of my last VW bus. Its transmission conveniently died its ultimate and final death in a place where I was able to coast home to the house in Boulder Creek I was living in at the time. Replacing the transmission was more than I could afford at the time, so I sold the engine to one of my housemates, a woman who was extremely devoted to the Grateful Dead. Here’s how devoted: a few days later, her mechanic friend came over and removed the engine from the bus, and put it in the back of his pickup, and the two of them drove to Vallejo, where her VW was broken down. While the mechanic installed the engine, she went off and had her baby — oh, forgot to mention, she was very pregnant at the time. She then took the brand-newborn baby, popped it into the newly-revived VW, and drove off to New York in order to catch a plane to Egypt to attend the Dead concert at the pyramids. Never did find out if she made it. But that’s some serious devotion.

    • Thank you, Nancy. I’m in my late 70’s, and I’ve picked up a few, along the way. When I started this blog, I really wasn’t sure what it was going to be “about”. It appears that one of the things is telling (and soliciting) stories that have a teaching aspect. I’ve got a few more up my sleeve. Did you read the one about my therapist’s Porsche?

  3. Humans are animals. I shouldn’t need to belabor that point, but our culture expends a huge amount of intellectual capital denying that basic and incontrovertible fact. Humans have emotions because animals have emotions (at least “higher” animals do… can’t speak for insects and such), and in a lot of cases we can read the cues of animal emotions because, well, we’re all pretty much the same damn thing. If the behavior of the bird is fascinating to us, it’s because we recognize its similarity to us, not its difference.

    Central to an emotion-bearing critter’s emotional well-being is a sense of “place”, or anchor point from which we can navigate the complexities of survival. I’m talking about “place” in terms of identity, not necessarily geography, though physical position can play into that identity. Think about it: most of our insecurities, angers, and sorrows stem from a sense of not having certain “needs” met, and I would argue the main need is that locus of “what I am”. I am a family/tribe/pack member. My Home is *here*. For we animals with strong pair bonds, “This is *my mate*”. Parents, family units, living spaces, mates, these are all anchor points from which we can feel safe venturing to seek resources or experiences, always being able to return to a known, familiar condition. I’ll make up a term here: orienting objects.

    For the goose, it’s her mate. With the mate gone and no other available, the goose attaches itself to whatever object seems most consistent and outstanding in her surroundings. A child denied the tit attaches to the security blanket. Try and take away that blanket, it’s violent tantrum time. Same deal. An emotional being needs an orienting object to which to tether itself against the vagaries of a chaotic environment. Denied the primary orienting object, we go searching for it, and switch objects if we cannot find the primary.

    Desperation in the search can lead us to some pretty wacky attachments, which we are all given to, and so we empathize with emotional plight of the bereaved bird and her cooler. Haven’t you known people with stories like this?

  4. Buff, that story gave me “Goosebumps”….it was the sweetest most adorable story ever! But what happened to the Bus? My Leopard Lounge is in the shop having her engine rebuilt and she will be back on the roads this year. I am also having a 6 ft. sliding rag-top installed on the roof, so when I’m camping, I can lay down and look up at the stars. I look forward to sharing her with you and DJ…and reminiscing the ever delusional never ending love of the VW Bus…

    • Well, the short answer, Tre, is I got sick of driving something that, for all its charm and character, failed to get me where I wanted to go, far too often. When it did get there, it was always an adventure. The heater didn’t work, so we had to wrap ourselves in blankets half the year, as we drove. Stuff like that. It went through an average of one engine a year, give or take, for the seven years we drove it. That got old, too. We sold it to a nice, young couple who were thrilled to be getting a real, honest-to-Jerry, hippie van for a very reasonable price. We were pretty thrilled, too. I heard that, a few months later, it threw a rod. Again. sigh.
      By the way, the name of the bus was “The Seagoose”. We painted that on the side: “The Seagoose. Berkeley”. I’ll never own a hipper vehicle, and I miss it, sometimes, actually, but everytime I get in our dull, dependable old Chevy and it fires right up, I’m glad I left all that behind.

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