We stopped the car at a beach, where a boardwalk followed the shoreline of Lac St. Jean, dipping into nearby marshes and woodlands. It was a warm October afternoon, probably one of the last, before winter descended. We wanted to enjoy every minute of it.
A seamless sky met the large body of water. Large crescents of white tufts seemed to be floating on the lake.
As we came closer, we realized that the white fluff were actually birds. Without prelude, the birds began to call, their fierce honking rising to a deafening crescendo. Flocks configured and rose to form ‘U’s, ‘V’s and letters of the Cyrillic alphabet. Other groups appeared and sank gracefully, with scarcely a splash into the lake, blending in with other birds.
They were the size of Canada Geese, sounded like Canada Geese, but they were white, with black-tipped wings.
I stopped a woman walking along the boardwalk with headphones in her ears, oblivious the orchestra of geese.
“Bonjour!” I said. “Quels sont ces oiseaux blancs?” I gestured towards the lake.
“Les oies blanches,” she shrugged.
Oiseaux blancs? White birds? It took me a moment to realize she meant “white geese” and recalled a short story by Paul Gallico called “The Snow Goose”, that all Canadian school children had to read.
We spent the afternoon walking the shoreline watching geese, forming, swarming, teeming, screaming …
I didn’t have a camera, but found a clip on youtube and some pictures that confirmed that these were, indeed, snow geese.
A quick internet check revealed that the geese arrive from Arctic regions at the end of September and stay about three weeks, feeding in the St. Lawrence and its tributaries on grasses and grains. In March, they stop again before their migration back north.
According to Martine, our hostess at the Bed & Breakfast we were staying at over Thanksgiving, the geese have been around longer than the usual three weeks. It’s been almost four weeks.
Our Bed & Breakfast was a restored rectory, overlooking Lac St. Jean at Roberval, the western shore. Normally, Roberval has been a place we pass through, grab a Tim Hortons coffee on our long drive to Montreal. This time we had the opportunity to explore the area and visit the Ursuline Convents; their recreated gardens and walkways where nuns may have walked a century ago, in twos, or threes or alone, in deep contemplation, when not busy in the gardens, teaching, caring for orphans …
I wondered why that order of nuns may have chosen that spot for their convent. Maybe they thought the geese were able to carry their prayers more swiftly to the heavens on their strong white wings.