The sky is turning to streaks of purple and orange. A man wearing faded Crocs and baggy shorts walks a bicycle teetering beneath the weight of a huge rucksack through a thicket of blackberries and wildflowers into a lot next to the BU Bridge. The clearing, flanked by graffiti-covered concrete embankments, is dotted with white geese. Their heads are tucked under their wings, and they squirt out green droppings in their sleep.
As the man draws near, the animals begin honking, briskly shaking their heads and standing up to stretch into arabesques. The visitor is the Santa Claus of geese, and they eagerly gather as he begins opening his sack.
Who is the Goose Lover?
The goose-lover is Bill Naumann, a Cambridge-based independent business and financial consultant. He says he feeds the geese twice a day, every day of the week. “I can’t remember the last time I missed a day. It was more than a year ago, I think, since I really haven’t been out of Cambridge all this time,” he says.
Naumann’s first encounter with the birds occurred more than four years ago, at the suggestion of his wife, Allison Blyler, a creative writing instructor at Boston University. “She saw the geese crossing the bridge to go to school and was curious. She later convinced me to come along with her,” he said.
Naumann recalls his first meeting with the geese as a “terrifying” experience.
“The birds came towards me flapping their wings and I was so scared I ran away,” he said. “But I got to know that they were very friendly and now I can’t imagine my life without them. You open your eyes to something you would never have been involved in and then you start identifying [yourself] with it.”
Why Is He Feeding the Geese?
Naumann says that he only takes care of the white geese because they are not wild breeds. Unlike the brown-hued native Canadian geese, the white geese were brought in by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority in the early 1980s to guard their plant and alert workers of intruders. After the plant became automated, the geese, no longer needed, migrated next to the bridge. The area was initially an overgrown thicket and grassy meadow with a lot of dandelions and weeds that provided food for them, but authorities have been clearing out the growth, as part of a larger project of beautifying the riverbank.
Concerned about the welfare of the birds, Naumann and his wife formed a group called the Charles River Urban Wild Initiative, seeking and receiving donations of vegetables and bread for the geese from local grocery stores and providing medical support when necessary. The 80-some geese eat about 50 pounds of bread and mixed grains every day, with an additional 40 pounds of lettuce when donations are more generous.
Bonding With the Geese
While distributing the food, Naumann talks excitedly, rarely stopping for breath. He points to an orange-beaked goose with snowy white plumage. “This is Fa, and that is Mi, and that’s his brother over there and that’s his girlfriend Scarlet,” he says, breaking a long baguette into half and ignoring the crumbs that dribble down his calves. “This one—here boy—is Pinky, because of his pink feet. We weren’t too original in naming them. Scarlet’s brother is Crimson, although you can’t be entirely sure because sometimes geese adopt other eggs.”
The birds snatch pieces of bread from his fingers or bury their beaks into a palm of grain. Some of them nip each other in the rear, fighting to get closer.
“You study geese long enough and you learn about life. Seeing how loving, family-oriented, and social they are, they make me think about myself. I don’t know how great of a brother I am to my sisters, but you get a sense of how important family these things are. It’s pretty fascinating and I appreciate that they let me overview their community.”
A Child and a Pet
Naumann, who doesn’t have any children or pets, says that to him, the geese are somewhat of both. “Maybe if I had something [else] to love, I wouldn’t do this. You only have so much love to give,” he said. “It takes quite a bit of work and time, but once I’m with the guys I want to see them. They bring me a lot of joy. When I’m busy, it only takes me 15 minutes to feed them, but on other days, I spend up to two hours with them.”
At last the bread, lettuce, seeds, and crackers are gone, and Naumann folds up his bag, his hands and clothes grimy from having been bathed several times in dust clouds.
“I stay here long enough and I become dirtier than the geese,” he says cheerfully, giving Buddy a final pat on the side. “See you guys tomorrow.”