Father Goose

Bill Lishman’s love for nature was instilled at an early age by his mother, a Quaker farm girl who earned a master’s degree in biology. As a boy, he was fascinated by the wild birds in the ponds of the family’s Ontario farm. One day when a crop-dusting airplane visited the farm, young Bill Lishman vowed he would some day fly a plane.

The first four chapters deal with Lishman’s transition from farm boy to artist and aviator. After failing to get into the Royal Canadian Air Force because of his color-blindness, Lishman began a career as a metal sculptor and eventually built an international reputation as an artist. The book features photographs of several of Lishman’s creations including a life-size lunar module and a “Stonehenge” made of crushed automobiles.

When ultra-light aircraft were developed in the early 1970’s, Lishman saw a way to fulfill his lifelong dream to fly. In an early ascent, he found himself in the midst of a flight of ducks and was exhilarated by the experience. The idea of flying with large birds became an obsession for Lishman. He wondered if geese could be taught to fly with an ultra-light through “imprinting,” a behavioral technique by which some animals can be trained from birth to accept a surrogate parent. He studied the work of Austrian naturalist Konrad Lorenz, consulted local wildlife experts, and began hatching goslings. Lishman’s experiments would have far-reaching ramifications: If geese could be taught to migrate by following an ultra-light aircraft, the method could then be applied to establishing migratory routes for threatened species such as whooping cranes and trumpeter swans.

Bill Lishman’s entertaining autobiography is a fascinating account of his early failures and eventual triumphs during ten years of experiments flying with Canada geese. His story was loosely adapted as the basis for the 1996 film FLY AWAY HOME. The author’s engaging, unassuming style and stunning color photographs by Joseph Duff make for enchanting reading.