Country mouse admires the geese

Heaven's hounds.

I heard them before I saw them—you nearly always do. High above me, echelons of honking geese, written like calligraphy, passed across the mouldy sky: the hounds of heaven were on the move.

Geese fly with a sense of purpose—they’re always clearly going somewhere to feed, roost or migrate. There’s tension among them as they jostle for position within the V formations and various birds take the lead as the wind shifts. More than 250,000 pink-footed geese arrive in Britain each autumn and add a touch of wildness to our winters. To see and hear them is to feel alive, although farmers curse them for the damage that they do to crops, particularly sugar beet.

It was the greylag goose, another winter visitor, that, once domesticated, went on to change our history, in both times of war and peace. They were reared for meat and their feathers were used as fletching for the arrows fired at Agincourt as well as making the quill used to sign Magna Carta. That’s the truth behind the old proverb: ‘A goose quill is more dangerous than a lion’s claw.’