(a Chinese fable)
Once upon a time, a flock of geese selected a young female to serve as their sentry. She had a loud voice, and she was sensitive and aware. She often jumped at the slightest sound. She honked ferociously. The geese agreed she would be a fine protector.
One hot summer night, on the banks of a beautiful river, the flock settled in for the night.
The sentry stood guard.
When she heard the sound of hunters in the distance, she honked and flapped her wings, and the flock woke and flew away as fast as they could.
“Good job!” the others cried. “You saved us all!”
Time passed, but word began to spread among the hunters.
“The geese have a sentry that wakes them at the slightest sound,” they said. “We must find a way to fool her.”
The hunters talked and talked about a solution, and finally one young man came up with a plan.
During the brightness of day, the hunters spread nets across their fields, far and wide. Then they hid themselves quickly in the forest to wait and to watch.
That night, the flock came to the field by the river and tested the air.
“All’s safe,” they decided, and one by one they fell asleep.
Everyone fell asleep, that is, but the sentry. She stood tall and proud, waiting, watching, listening.
When the hunters knew that everyone was fast asleep, they lit a torch.
The moment the sentry goose heard that match strike wood, she began to honk with all her might. And when she began to wail, the hunters extinguished the light and stayed as still as stone.
“Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!” the sentry cried.
Every goose woke up, and they began to flap their wings, preparing to fly away fast, but as the first goose took to the air, she looked around and saw that everything was dark and quiet.
“There’s nothing going on!” she complained.
“All’s well,” said another.
Then another said, “Our sentry is too sensitive. There’s no one around.”
“I swear I heard a sound,” the sentry said. “Shhh … listen. There’s someone near. I’m certain there is.”
The geese quieted. Sure enough, no one heard a sound. They looked around and saw that everything was dark and still — not even a breeze fluttered the leaves.
“Go back to sleep!” they called to each other, and soon they all fell asleep.
Everyone, that is, but the sentry.
Now, once again, the hunters lit a torch, and the moment the sentry heard that sound, she took a deep breath and prepared to cry. The moment she did, the hunters put out the light, but it was too late.
The sentry honked at the top of her lungs, “Wake up, wake up, wake up!”
The geese woke and began to flap their wings, and one goose started to fly, but as she did, she looked around and saw that everything was dark. She listened and everything was quiet.
“Our sentry is too sensitive!” she cried. “Settle down. There’s nothing wrong. Go back to sleep!”
“Too sensitive,” they muttered. “Waking us for nothing at all.”
They whispered and complained about the poor sentry. Her nerves were shattered.
Every goose fell fast asleep, every one except the sentry, and once again the hunters lit a match.
“Wake, wake!” the sentry cried, but they had put out the match again.
Now when the geese woke, they were angry.
“You’re playing a trick on us!” one of the old geese said to the sentry. “How dare you try to fool your flock!”
Soon the younger geese began to nip at her and muttered, “Leave us be, leave us be, leave us be. Why can’t you let us get our sleep?”
“But I heard something,” the poor sentry whispered. “I swear I heard something. I’m certain the hunters are near.”
But no one believed her. “You have a very active imagination,” the elders told the sentry. “You’ve let your imagination run away with you. You’re dreaming of hunters.”
“It isn’t a dream,” the sentry cried. “I heard them. I did.”
“Go to sleep now, and tomorrow we shall choose a new sentry,” the elders said. “Everyone go back to sleep.”
Soon the whole flock was fast asleep in the field, and this time when the sentry heard the match, she kept herself quiet.
“I’m imagining again,” she told herself. “I won’t make a fuss.”
And when the hunters lit the torch and it burned as brightly as the moon, she blinked her eyes.
“I’m seeing things now,” she thought to herself.
And so the hunters managed to draw close, and they pulled in their net, and all the geese were trapped.
“Why didn’t you warn us?” the elders cried.
But the sentry could only weep. “I tried, I tried, I tried …” she honked faintly.