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Dana Parsons / ORANGE COUNTY

It's a Lucky Day When Chaos Is Put On Hold

August 12, 2006|Dana Parsons

In a world that never seems to lose its thirst for conflict or its flirtation with chaos, the prospect of finding a haven is overpowering.

Put another way, when you find out that hair gel is a potential cover for a weapon of mass destruction, there's a strong desire to find a place where life unfolds the way we wish it would -- free from fear and jangled nerves.

That led me Friday morning to the Far Horizons Montessori School in Orange, where a splash party, preschoolers and a goose named Lucky were the lures. OK, there was some chaos, but the kind caused by 3-year-olds running through a playground sprinkler.

I'd been given quite a buildup the day before: how Lucky (gender thus far unknown) was hatched in June, the only one of 12 eggs at the school to yield a bird; how the youngsters from 2 1/2 to 4 were awed by the birthing process; and how the older kids (through eighth grade) also got a kick out of Lucky, so named because of his beating the odds.

And how Lucky has remained a part of the student body the last two months, coming in every Friday morning to walk around and hang with the kids.

"He almost flied," 4-year-old Melinneh tells me, also slipping in the information that she is dried off from playing in the water. "I saw his wings fly," she says, mimicking a flapping bird. "He was just flapping his wings and then he stopped." I wasn't sure if Melinneh said "flapping" or "flopping" or "flying" but I got the point.

I'd been told that during his Friday visits to Classroom 1, where the youngest kids are grouped, that Lucky typically goes from student to student. Naturally, with me there, Lucky would not perform on cue and contented himself with meandering around the classroom before going outside and splashing around in a tub.

He was off his game a bit, and some of the staff thought he was a bit nervous -- the way a lot of humans get when faced with 20-some excitable preschoolers.

But as the morning calmed down a bit, other students came in to see Lucky and gave me some inside information.

Shabnan, who's 5, explained that the original 12 eggs were in an incubator and "then Lucky's head just popped out."

That seemed to differ slightly with 4-year-old Ethan's version, which was that, "We were sleeping and his head popped out."

I was unable to square their accounts, but they were so darn cute and earnest, it didn't seem to matter.

School director Nora Cunningham says the staff was fretting in early June because the eggs weren't showing much life. They determined, however, that something was going on inside Lucky's shell and, finally, the egg started to crack on a Friday in June.

The next day, June 10, at administrative assistant Michele Johannesson's home, Lucky hatched.

When she brought in the new gosling the following Monday, "There was great excitement," Cunningham said. "The joy of seeing the gosling and seeing it walk, the children could hold it and touch it, its feathers were soft. They all held it, but some were afraid."

Goslings form an "imprint" of the first thing they see, Cunningham says, and Lucky considers Johannesson its mother. So it's like having a cat or dog? "It's really more like a child," Johannesson says. "I know it sounds kooky."

Not to the students. "He just walks into class," Shabnan says. "He thinks we're his mother and father and sons and daughters." She also says that Lucky "thinks he's an eagle."

Four-year-old Hannah confides, "The teacher said we're his mommy and we have to pick up his poop."

I get more perspective from some older kids. Rachel, 10, says Lucky once tried to play her GameBoy.

He also enjoys getting his beak into her long brown hair and tugging gently.

Hannah, who's 9, says Lucky has always liked attention. "If he didn't get it, he started yelping until at least five people came to his cage," she says.

As we're talking cross-legged on the floor, Lucky is hanging around. He wraps his neck around the children in his version of a hug. The older kids theorize the younger kids' rapid movements and decibel level earlier in the morning had affected Lucky. Hannah tossed out another theory: "My guess is he's scared to be interviewed."

Undaunted, I asked a couple innocuous questions. Lucky yapped each time and Hannah interpreted. To tell the truth, I didn't get much from him.

But when I got up to leave, Hannah said, "He says goodbye, it was nice meeting you and that he did like being interviewed."

All in all, a good morning.

Reality awaited outside the gates of Far Horizons, but at least for an hour or so, bright-eyed youngsters and a goose named Lucky offered sweet sanctuary.

Dana Parsons' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana.parsons@latimes.com. An archive of his recent columns is at www.latimes.com/parsons.

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