This weekend, I was almost killed by a goose.
In retrospect, I suppose I should have paid more attention to the signs.
It was the weekend of our church’s annual women’s retreat, and per my own tradition, I awoke before dawn and walked down to the water’s edge to await the arrival of the sunrise. From a distance, I could already see sunlight shafting through the clouds, and a lone goose standing along the snow-dusted shoreline.
As I approached, he lifted his head and made a strange coughing sound in his throat, which I took to be a scratchy, good-morning honk. I thought little of it, and took a few photos before meandering along the rocky shore towards the water.
When I reached an impasse in the rocks, I turned to hike back to my original position, and there stood the goose. His wings flared out on either side of him, and a weird sound was coming from his beak. Again, I assumed he was simply stretching, and that his voice was just a little scratchy first thing in the morning (you’re seeing the red flags here, right?).
I ignored him and made my way back to the path, studying the ground along the way for frogs and turtles. Coming up empty, I turned back to the main shore area and waited for the sun to make his dramatic entrance over the water. Off to the right, I could see my goose friend about thirty yards away, bobbing peacefully on the waves with his mate.
I cued up my camera and fiddled with the dials, prepping myself for the perfect shot. Spotting a large rock close to the water’s edge, I made my way towards it, planning to use it as a sort of tripod.
Then I heard a splash and the flutter of wings. I turned to the right to find one of the geese airborne, flying in my general direction.
My photographer’s instinct rejoiced. “Aha!” I thought. “An action shot! I’ve never caught a bird in flight before!”
Then I realized that his flight would take him right through my face.
Up until this moment of my life, I had never been afraid of birds. But there’s something terrifying about watching a furious fowl spread his wings and barrel full-tilt towards your face, hissing with wrath. I froze, struggling to take in the absurdity of the situation. For one horrifying moment, I’m about to die by goose was the only coherent thought that occurred to me.
Then my senses returned, and I decided to retreat.
I backed off quickly, trying not to make any sudden movements. I found myself talking to the bird as if he could understand me: “Whoa now, it’s okay, I’m leaving, look! I’m sorry–I didn’t mean to make you mad! Look, I’m going!”
But my pleas fell on deaf ears (do geese even have ears?). With each stroke of his wings, my winged adversary was gaining on me, and I was stumbling over the slippery rocks in my clumsy attempt to escape. It was like a bad horror movie, except I wasn’t wearing heels.
Finally, when the bird was about six feet from my face, I did the only thing I could think to do.
I flung my arms out as wide as I could, and I roared. (Well, yelled, really, but “roared” sounds much more impressive.)
Startled, the goose diverted his flight and fluttered to an abrupt landing a few yards away. He quickly turned and puffed his neck feathers out, then spread his wings and charged me along the ground. I backed off quickly and soon felt the familiar scuff of concrete under my shoes.
That must have been the boundary line. As soon as I was off the beach and on the path, he stopped his furious charge. Glaring at me, he hissed once more, folded his wings, un-fluffed his neck, and shuffled back across the rocks to his mate.
In hindsight, I realize I must have done something to anger this goose. I probably got too close to his nest without realizing it, and the goose was simply defending his territory. At the time of the attack, though, his vicious winged charge seemed unprovoked, and it sent me backpedaling in fear, away from my planned quiet time with God.
Now, the Bible compares our Enemy to many things—a cunning serpent, a prowling lion seeking to devour—but I don’t think “an attacking goose” ever made the list. At least, I haven’t read that passage yet. But let’s be honest, friends—don’t the Enemy’s attacks feel like that sometimes? Doesn’t it seem like his lies often come flying out of nowhere, barreling towards our most vulnerable places and sending us scurrying in fear and anxiety?
Just prior to this retreat, several friends and I were discussing some attacks we had each been facing in our own lives. Like my encounter with the goose, each of these attacks from the Enemy had felt unexpected. However, as we discussed them in more detail, we realized we had all been missing the signs.
Just as the goose had tried to “warn” me with his throaty cough and outspread wings, Satan also likes to test the waters before launching a full-on attack. He knows that subtlety can be more effective than savagery, and he knows how quick we can be to rationalize and ignore the warnings until it’s too late. Satan’s methods often seem small and nonthreatening in the beginning—like the goose’s “scratchy morning voice” and “wing yoga”—but in the end his full-on charge can leave us crippled with anxiety and backpedaling in fear.
There is also a pattern to his deceptions. Our Enemy knows our weaknesses, and he is an expert liar. But he is not altogether clever. Just as many geese nest in the same place year after year, Satan loves to find a weak point in our armor and “nest” there, needling us again and again with the same deceptions, lies, and temptations. He may be a master of untruth, but his arsenal is limited.
Thankfully, we have an arsenal of our own. Our first line of defense comes in reading the signs—knowing our own weaknesses, and avoiding areas of life (or the shoreline) that we know to be part of the Enemy’s territory. We must also be proactive in recognizing triggers—listening for the Enemy’s “cough,” watching for his outspread wings—in order to avoid the danger that follows. Finally, when attacks do come, we must learn to stand our ground, realizing that when we stand firm in faith and resist the devil, he will flee from us (see James 4:7).
My friends laughed as I told them the story of my near-death encounter with the goose, but the incident served as a serious reminder of the tactics of the Enemy we face. It also reminded me of the power of the God we serve and the weapons He has given us to effectively stand our ground, including the truth of His Word and the counsel of good Christian friends.
I’ll be honest–my nightmares for the next few weeks will probably be filled with goose beaks and beating wings. But I pray my waking moments will be filled with praise for our glorious God and with preparation for the attacks to come.
And maybe next time, I’ll stay calm enough to get that awesome action shot, too.
P.S. While this incident was spiritually instructive, it was also a good physical reminder to stay on marked paths whenever you’re hiking. As I climbed down to the beach, I tried to justify my off-the-beaten-path wanderings by saying there was no sign specifically prohibiting leaving the trail, but the goose reminded me that the paved paths are there for a reason: to protect the wildlife and the hikers. Even if you don’t see a sign, it’s a wise idea to remain on the trail, and bring a zoom lens if you want to get a closer action shot of wildlife.