Webster Takes a Trip

By Lois Smith

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    Webster, the Canada goose gosling, wobbles out of his down-lined nest and peers over the edge of the cliff. Two hundred feet below flow the waters of the Missouri River. Webster’s father, the gander, making short, circling flights above the cliff, calls and coaxes, urging his family to leave the cliff and join him.

    On the cliff ledge, Webster is joined by his three sisters. Mother lifts off on her strong wings and calls to her babies, come, come, come.

    Webster flaps his tiny featherless wings and hurls himself after the goose. Can he fly? No, indeed. Instead he falls down, down, down and lands ker-plunk on a rock pile at the base of the cliff.

    One by one his sisters follow. The rocks below are jagged and sharp. It’s a miracle that they are not injured. Webster stands up, shakes himself, and the four goslings tumble and scramble down the rock pile to the waiting goose and gander.

    Away they go toward the river—the goose, the four goslings, and the gander, making their own little parade.

    But there’s another hazard ahead. Between the river and the cliff is a railroad track. And, while a person like you or me could step right over the tracks, the steel rails make a high fence to block the way of short-legged Webster and his sisters. The only way for the goose and gander to get their babies across is to lead them down the tracks to a crossing.

    Look out, Webster! Danger may be lurking. Out in the open in broad daylight, the geese are in full view of any furred or feathered predator. If there’s a hungry fox nearby he may try to nab a gosling dinner. Actually, any fox would be foolish to tangle with the adult geese, because nesting Canada geese are short-tempered and strong enough to knock a horseman from his saddle and break his arm. A fox wouldn’t stand a chance against an angry goose and gander.

    Soon the little parade comes to a railroad bridge. This solves the problem of getting across the tracks. Webster and his sisters follow the goose down the steep slope and, for the first time, enter the water. Instinct tells them exactly what to do and in a few seconds they are across the narrow stream and on their way to the main channel of the river just ahead.

    The goose family is headed for a tree-covered island in the middle of the river. The island will provide food and a sheltered place for the young goslings to grow up.

    Webster jumps in and paddles with all his might against the powerful river current. Bounced and battered by the rolling waters, at times he cannot see either his parents or his sisters. He swims and swims. The river is carrying him far downstream.

    Finally he is out of the current and into calmer waters. With his last ounce of strength he wades up onto the levee and sinks to the sand in a tuckered heap.

    Far upstream he can hear the come, come, come call of the goose and gander. He struggles to his feet and starts out to rejoin his family. The way is rocky and uncomfortable. He slips and falls, bruising himself as he goes. Although Webster is only one day old and appears to be all softness and fluff, in reality he is wiry and tough. He moves on.

    Along the way he meets his sisters, also headed toward the come, come, come call. Soon they are greeted by the goose and gander. The parents flap their wings excitedly to welcome the goslings to the sheltering willows and quiet backwaters of their island home.

    Illustrated by Jerry Thompson