The Stare Down

“What’s so special about those? I see them all the time.”

Yes, we see them. And if you live in Colorado, you definitely see them all the time. They are in parks, fields, the county courthouse parking lot, on the side of the road, often in the road, and sometimes, even in our back yards. They are, as my mom would eloquently say of my ranch, “like horse crap. They’re everywhere.” But have we ever slowed down to actually look at these creatures and appreciate the true beauty that can be found in them?

These are scary times. With the COVID – 19 outbreak interrupting the usual hustle and bustle of daily life, I find myself reevaluating the world around me and noticing simple things that I often take for granted and don’t typically think so much about.  Take, for example, Canadian Geese.

I feel as though I just heard a collective groan from a bored audience. There was a time I would have felt the same way – believe me, I felt the twinge of a groan forming as I wrote the words “Canadian Geese” – but I have had a change of heart.

Like many of you, I have been under house arrest due to COVID – 19, isolating myself from the world as much as possible. However, the restlessness of being confined finally got the best of me and a change of scenery was calling. I grabbed my camera and decided to take a short drive and participate in an activity I refer to as being “a bird nerd.” This is where I go out with my camera and attempt to photograph birds of prey. Today, the forces of nature were against me, as my usual locations for bird sightings came up empty. Eventually, I found myself at a small, local lake, hoping to see anything with wings.

As I started up the path to the lake, I noticed movement on the path ahead but couldn’t make out what was there. Moments later, I found myself in a stare down with a Canadian Goose that was also using the same path. It was heading straight towards me, and it didn’t seem thrilled that I was there. It immediately started making noise, squawking and flapping its large, dark wings as it continued straight for me. I was caught off guard and froze for a moment. This wasn’t the greeting I was expecting from the usually quiet lake with its serene atmosphere. The black and white bird courageously charged down the path towards me. I was about to turn and run when it abruptly stopped several feet in front of me and just stared at me. This bird was looking me in the eye as if to say, “what the hell are you looking at?” I was thinking I should probably leave and get out of its space, but I decided to snap a few pictures with my camera instead. I wanted to have evidence of what was about to kill me since I was certain it could run faster than me on the muddy path.

The Stare Down

I have heard that geese can be territorial and downright mean when they feel their space is being invaded or they feel threatened. When you stop and think about it, people often have these same instincts, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that this bird wasn’t happy to be sharing its path with me. It stood still and gave me the stare down. I felt like I was in a staring contest and it was daring me to blink first.

In a sense, I did blink first. I slowly raised my camera and snapped a few pictures. The dark eyes of the bird didn’t waiver for several minutes as it refused to take its eyes off of me. With the exception of a little camera noise, I remained still, admiring the bird as it stood before me. I couldn’t help but notice the smooth curves of its neck and head and the strong lines of its wings.  And the colors were spectacular – the shiniest of black on its head and neck and white on its body that gleamed with golden brown highlights on some of its lower body feathers.

After a few minutes, the goose lost interest in me and seemed to be surveying the path, deciding which direction to go. It eventually left the path and took to the air, landing gracefully several yards away in the cold lake water. As it swam away, it was joined by several others, and the atmosphere became rather noisy with their dialogue and flapping wings. They reminded me of a large family cajoling and teasing one another. Some were happy, some seemed annoyed. But they definitely had each other.

The Canadian Goose from my encounter flying to the water’s edge.

Canadian Geese are known for their courage, loyalty, devotion, fellowship, and fearlessness. Unlike people, they will not leave one of their own kind behind. I witnessed all of this in one day. Mother nature has an amazing classroom.

I not only ended up leaving the lake with some insight into these rather stately birds, but I also left with a sense of peace and an understanding that even if we see something all the time, it still has a place in the universe and shouldn’t be taken for granted. I also couldn’t help but feel positive change will soon be on the horizon if we exercise some patience and understanding to get to that point. Like the Canadian Geese we see in our midst, we need to incorporate courage and fearlessness in our lives while maintaining a spirit of loyalty, devotion, and fellowship.

There is something to be said about the stately beauty of Canadian Geese and the quiet message of hope they bring to our world, even if we “see them all the time.”

~ Sandy Shiner-Swanson

If you enjoy the pictures from Birds, Boots, and Brews, please check out the artist gallery on Redbubble at

https://www.redbubble.com/people/sswan58

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Life in the Balance

Storm to Pass stood tall and proud in her stall before the race, her chestnut coat shining and her strawberry blonde mane beautifully combed. She stood regal and proud, curiously looking me over with kind, gentle eyes. She carried herself to the paddock and the racetrack with elegance and grace. I was in awe of her beauty and impressed by how she carried herself. I was also a bundle of nerves. Not because Storm to Pass was running, but because my horse, Sizzle Factor, a stablemate of Storm to Pass, was entered to run in the race following hers, and I was starting to get nervous.  

It was pouring rain in Tulsa, Oklahoma that night. Not long before the races began, the skies opened up and the rain started. The track was sealed for safety, but the horses would still be splashing home in the water and mud. The rain continued to get heavier and heavier. It was a steady downpour when the gates opened and Storm to Pass ran her race. She made a valiant effort, finishing fourth in her race. The jockey was slowing her down and easing her up when the unthinkable happened; Storm to Pass slipped a little and took a bad step. Immediately sensing something was amiss, her jockey got her stopped and issued the call for help. Storm to Pass was vanned off the track and taken back to her stall.

A flurry of activity ensued. My trainer was upset because he didn’t know what exactly had happened to Storm to Pass and he wasn’t allowed to go with her when she was being vanned to the barn. He did know that the injury was serious and x-rays would be required to truly assess things. My heart sank. It didn’t sound good.

After a victorious run from Sizzle Factor, who won a photo finish, I found myself back at the barn. I wanted to celebrate and be happy my horse had won, but the only thing I could focus on was Storm to Pass. She was standing in her stall again, still looking regal and proud, although she was not putting weight on one of her front legs and swelling was visible in the knee area and the ankle was showing some swelling as well. An x-ray revealed that a substantial part of the knee bone was out of place. I asked my trainer what was going to happen next. My heart sank when he said her owner had made the decision to put her down.

Before I knew it, I heard myself crying out. “No!!! Please! You can’t just put her down. No!!!” I was looking my trainer in the eyes, trying to hold back tears. I could hear my voice shaking as I told him, “You have to give her a chance. Isn’t there something that can be done? Please. If she can be saved, I’m willing to do it.”

He knew I was serious. I could tell he was thinking things through in his mind, knowing it would take some doing to make arrangements and get her to a surgeon. There was no guarantee she would survive the surgery or even be a good candidate for surgery. She was also high risk for developing founder or laminitis.  It was a few moments before he responded. “Let me talk to her owner and see if he’s agreeable to that.”

A few moments later, I had my answer. And a new horse to love and care for.  My trainer did his best to make Storm to Pass comfortable in terms of pain and then went about the tedious process of getting the wheels in motion to get her to a surgeon. We were very blessed to have one of the best equine surgeons in Oklahoma agree to take her case.

In the meantime, there was no lack of opinions and criticism from many people in the barn area. Several people made it known that they thought Storm to Pass should be put down. My trainer took a lot of criticism for standing by my decision to try to save her. Two women I have never seen before nor since walked down our shed row when my trainer wasn’t around, pointed at Storm to Pass, and said it was a disgrace that she was still standing there and that the right thing had not been done in putting her down. I started to approach them and say something, but stopped myself because I was almost in tears. Instead, I waited for them to leave and entered the stall with Storm to Pass. As I wrapped my arms around her neck and started to pet her, she laid her head on my shoulder and sighed. We stood quietly together for a long time.  I knew in that moment I had made the right decision.

Storm to Pass underwent knee surgery and made it through with flying colors. She came out of the anesthesia very quietly, which is wonderful. Apparently, a horse can do a lot of damage if it thrashes about upon awakening. She now has three screws in her knee and has made it through the first two weeks post-surgery, which is a very critical time.  Her weight distribution is good and the surgical incision has healed. With time and a substantial amount of stall rest, she should be able to get around well enough to enjoy grazing and have a new career as a mother and pasture companion to other horses.   

I am always amazed and touched by the life lessons that can be gained through these beautiful beings. Horses can be intimidating because of their size and strength. And yet, I am reminded by Storm to Pass that like people, they can also be fragile and the slightest accident can have a life hanging in the balance. Storm to Pass is not completely out of the woods yet, but I am assured the worst is over. It is going to take a lot of time, healing, and patience in the months ahead. I am inspired by her strength and her will power. She is a tough, amazing horse with an incredible will to go on. It is my hope that she will enjoy her new life and home in Colorado once she can travel here. I feel very blessed and grateful to be able to welcome her here and be part of her healing process. When you stop and think about it, we are all healing from something.