Last week I took part in the annual Fair Exchange of Gifts Benefit Concert for people in need at this time of year.
It is my privilege to be a part of such a worthy event. A number of people had asked if I would tell my McMurtry’s Christmas Goose story at the concert. The musical arrangement had already been put together and I was unable to fit the story in, so I would like to offer it here in written form.
Oh yeah, by the way, Merry Christmas – one and all.
Robert McMurtry stood looking out over his pastures – looking for any of his sheep that may have separated from the herd. He began walking along the fence line. With him was his faithful canine compaion Mac, a mean and miserable looking old border collie-cross. Mac disliked all other dogs, barely tolerated people, and was seldom far from McMurtry’s side.
Robert McMurtry was a solitary sort, a sheep farmer who kept to himself and spoke to few. Somewhere along the line he had come to the conclusion that if you spend enough time in the company of a good dog, you don’t need to spend nearly so much time around people.
A light snow started to fall. It was Christmas Eve morning – a fact that had not escaped McMurtry’s memory… or his thoughts. McMurtry had come to know loneliness in a way that few men have. He stopped and stood looking out into the distance, beyond the pastures and his property line, past the hills that stretched beyond the purple grey horizon, to a time and place long ago.
He had not noticed that the snow was coming down harder. Nor did he notice that Mac had turned the sheep from the pasture toward the barns. Nor did he notice the pair of Canada geese pecking at the thin crust of snow on the edge of a small pond.
With the sheep now heading toward the shelter of the barn by themselves, Mac turned dutifully towards his master who still stood looking out into the distance. An impatient bark jarred McMurtry from his thoughts. His mind’s eye began to focus on the pond before him. For the first time he became aware of the two geese. He could not help but wonder why they had not flown south with the great flocks that had honked their way across the autumn skies last fall. He turned and followed Mac back toward the house.
When the two geese showed up in the yard a couple of hours later, McMurtry was, to say the very least, somewhat surprised. Must have followed him in, he thought to himself. He looked at their footprints in the snow. They had walked the whole way.
The sight of the two was almost as amusing as it was bewildering. McMurtry was less amused though when he noticed the one bird’s wings were damaged. At some point or other it had been shot. The flight feathers appeared fine, but the wound had healed over in a way that rendered the bird flightless. McMurtry scoffed to himself. He had nothing against hunters, just against stupid ones.
What really got him, though, was the fact that the bird appeared quite capable of flight. It had chosen to remain with its mate.
When the pair followed him right into the barn, McMurtry laughed out loud. He laid out several bails of alfalfa for the sheep, and then, threw down a pail full of seed for the chickens. The geese were quick to respond.
Two more mouths to feed won’t matter that much, he thought to himself.
And then, on a cold and snowy Christmas Eve, Robert McMurtry found himself wishing a “Merry Christmas” to two of God’s creatures that apparently cared more for each other than a lot of people do.