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''And there are snappers here. There were a lot more before we had the lake drained a couple of years ago. We used to have to warn people not to let their kids dangle their legs over the water.''
And we always go early, when the park and Silver Lake itself contain hardly any other early risers but the ducks and the Canada geese. This one damp morning we passed a bush; I heard something between a snort and a honk. The bush had concealed a Canada goose that was now struggling to stand up, and when it was erect, it was on only one foot. It was a large bird of its kind, apparently a male.
The royalty of the avian kingdom were, like newlyweds (or long married humans on a second honeymoon? Swans mate for life), performing a courtship dance. A third swan an avian squire? patrolled the shore, perhaps keeping the smaller birds at their distance.
For years the Canada geese had seemed the absolute lords and ladies of Silver Lake, their swooping arrivals in great squadrons scattering the lesser water fowl, the mallards, the Pekin ducks, even the seagulls, brash and brassy as they are. A sort of noblesse oblige; make way for the big birds.
But on that cold morning a far different scene was being played at our lake. Two swans were all alone in the center of the lake. Along the shore the lesser birds watched the swans circling each other, occasionally curving their incredible necks to feed or sip water and, from time to time, cross bills, as though in a kiss.
Most of the young men of this part of Baldwin, when they were very young, had answered the call to adventure and exploration that the village's lakes and streams offer to curious children (and what children are not?). One of our sons had built a raft of boards and ropes and inner tubes and, aged 10, had set out on Parsonage Creek, south of Silver Lake, bound for the bay and perhaps for the sea itself, before we caught him. He wasn't trying to run away. He just wanted to see what would happen.
I remembered the rocky brooks and ponds of western Connecticut, when I was a child. I remembered, there, snapping turtles that watched from the bottom for unwary water birds to paddle by, offering a free lunch a duckling or gosling, perhaps or an opportunity for that pugnacious reptilian species to engage in battle with a full grown water fowl, from which the turtle might win a leg. Was that what had happened here?
ABOUT LONG ISLAND
And then he raised himself, wings whipping, and I saw the one leg under the body. If he was trying to fly, he failed. But he was close enough, now, so that when he settled back on the lake surface, the feathers on the back of the bird were uneven, and on the left side the great wing's feathers looked spiky.
Herb Palmer, who is in charge of the park attendants, cleared up all the mysteries besetting the amateur naturalist's mind. ''That goose is still around,'' he said recently. ''In fact, there's two of them with one leg. He couldn't fly because none of them could fly right then. The plumage you saw? It was their molting season.
Another son had followed a creek north of the lake until it led into a wide storm drain; he had then gone up the drain until he saw, ahead, a circle of light on the top of the tube. It was a small manhole. He opened it and found himself in the middle of Sunrise Highway. He never did that again.
Several weeks later, on a darkling morning, Hansel and I found no water birds on the lake shore at all, but a flotilla of Canada geese and mallards in the water. They were gliding toward us, moving evenly as if propelled by motors, not feet. All birds have splendid eyesight. Perhaps they thought I had food for them in the white bag. (If they had known what was already in it, they might have taken off for Hudson's Bay.)
Recently I told that son about the injured goose and offered my theory. ''Well, when I was a kid there were snappers in Loft Lake'' (north of Merrick Road, and the centerpiece of the Loft Estates), he said. ''People used to catch them, for soup, I guess. And they did get into Silver Lake. But that bird could have been hurt that way anywhere. They do travel.''
But happily that has been the only case of wildlife misery I have seen at Silver Lake Park. This year, not too long after winter had let go, Hansel and I were privileged to witness a ritual on that lake as lovely as seeing brides and bridegrooms posing for the photographer at the lake's shore. Yes; I'm sure I felt more privileged than Hansel did.
He made small vocal noises, signals, as I read them (and apparently as Hansel read them), voicing a plea for a temporary truce: I am wounded. We went about our business, mostly Hansel's business.
Any other water bird would have tried to get to the water. Or to fly away. This one did neither. He stood his ground, balancing rather well on the one leg, as if he were used to it. I had seen other birds do that, stand on one leg. It came to me then that this one had only one leg.
The last time I saw the goose he was drifting, near the Silver Lake shore. His plumage was ragged and looked soiled. The long neck, in broad sunlight, was curled over the body, as though it was waiting for eternal sleep.
BALDWIN THE sign reads ''No Dogs Allowed in Park,'' but no dogs can read, and Silver Lake Park was on Hansel's and my morning inventory long before the sign went up. He is an old dog now, like his master, and we both need exercise. The fact that I carry a garden trowel and a Friendly Ice Cream bag along seems to help, if we do encounter a park attendant.
It was evocative of a wedding reception, when the band forces the bride and groom to dance. But these two were far more graceful than any humans clumping around uncertainly to the Anniversary Waltz.
But one goose was apart from the others, and was bobbing as he swam, much like someone in a rowboat who has lost one oar and is trying to scull his way along. He was not keeping up with the other Canada Goose Hybridge Hoody Australia Sale geese.
The goose, I thought, had lost part of his wing as well as a leg. But it had been weeks since I had seen him last, and even if he was living as an outcast from his society, he was surviving. He swam away from the other birds. He managed a turn, offering a rear profile: he was listing slightly, like a ship in trouble.