Chapter 12— Flying Geese in Λ-Formation

Flying Geese to Lake Lagunita
Stanford University, August 20, 2010
While walking around Lake Lagunita at Stanford University on August 20, 2010, a flock of Canadian Geese in V-formation made their landing. It dawned upon me that their actual shape is the Platonic Lambda Λ— "Soul of the Universe". Wrote a poem
"The Spring Geese Are Flying North" (9-27-2010, Notes).
Scientists wondered why the geese fly that way and have found it's for aerodynamic reasons— believes that birds fly in this way for two reasons. The first reason is that the shape of the formation reduces the drag force that each bird experiences compared to if it were flying alone. This decrease in drag occurs thanks to the formation of wingtip vortices. A second reason is that this orientation allows birds to communicate more easily. The birds have good visual contact and won't lose each other along the way during long migration.

Photographs Showing Geese Flying in the Lambda Λ-Formation

Snow geese flying in formation

Migrating Birds
Ingo Staack @

Legend of Flying Geese
Village Bank

Flying Geese Formation

Flying Geese

V-Formation of Flying Geese

Lambda Formation Barnacle Geese

Geese in Lambda Formation

Lambda Formation Geese

Poems on Flying Geese

Geese Flying in Λ-Formation
Lessons from the Geese
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers,
Meanwhile, the wild geese, high in the clean blue air
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
The world offers itself to your imagination.
Calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting,
Over and over announcing your place in the family of things.

"Wild Geese"
— Mary Oliver

Suddenly we heard a sound
primeval in its tone and rhythm
coming from the northern sky.
We turned to watch in silence
long wavering V's
breasts transformed to brilliance
by the lights we would have dimmed.
The geese passed overhead,
and then without a word
we went down to a peaceful sleep,
marveling at what we'd seen and heard.

"A Reflection of Beauty in Washington"
— President Jimmy Carter

Geese Flying in Λ-Formation
Lessons from the Geese

Geese in Fight
Photo by Choo Choo Love
Something told the wild geese
It was time to go,
Though the fields lay golden
Something whispered, "snow"...

Something told the wild geese
It was time to fly,
Summer sun was on their wings,
Winter in their cry.

"Something Told the Wild Geese"
— Rachel Field

Postage Stamps Showing Flying Geese

U.S. RW14, $1.00
Snow Geese
(issued 7-1-1947)

Canada 415, 15 cents
Canadian Geese
(issued 10-30-1963)

Canada C9 (Λ-shape between wings), 7 cents
Canadian Geese in Flight
(issued 9-16-1946)

China 1502, $6.50
Bean Geese
(issued 10-10-1966)
Note: Above stamps were located in my 1975 Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, Volumes I-II. With catalogue #s, found them in Google Images, and downloaded from the web. Click on stamp for image sources.

* The Notes (10-6-2010) for my poem "The Spring Geese Are Flying North" (9-27-2010)
are worth repeating, so I'm reproducing them below—

Geese conserve energy when flying
in a V than when flying alone,
reducing wind resistance

Flying in the V-formation conserves energy for the geese. Each bird flies slightly above the bird in front of him, resulting in a reduction of wind resistance. The birds take turns being in the front, falling back when they get tired. In this way, the geese can fly for a long time before they must stop for rest. In a 2001 Nature article, scientists found that pelicans that fly alone beat their wings more frequently and have higher heart rates than those flying in V-formation.

so they can glide longer and
increase their range by 70%—
Nature's way to boosts efficiency.

Birds that fly in V-formation glide more often and reduce energy expenditure using the other birds' air streams. All the birds except the first fly in the upwash from the wingtip vortices of the bird ahead. The upwash assists each bird in supporting its own weight in flight, in the same way a glider can climb or maintain height indefinitely in rising air. Each bird can achieve a reduction of induced drag by 65% and increase their range by 71%. [Henri Weimerskirch, et. al., Nature, 413, 697-698 (2001); Wikipedia: V Formation]

Corporations have adopted
this formula of teamwork
to prosper more in business.

David Schaefer coaches clients to achieve their goals and optimal performance. He uses the V-formation of migrating geese as a lesson in leadership and teamwork. Like geese, people who share a common direction and a sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier than those who try to go it alone. One realizes that ultimately success depends on working as a team, taking turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. (Synergy/Leadership)

Suddenly an eureka moment
that the geese were not flying
in V but the Λ-formation—

Recalling the koan "Where does the One return?", Zen master Mang Gong's reply "The spring geese are flying north", and Chinmayananda's 1975 letter, may have made my mind leap to a different level of awareness. Just like seeing the Platonic Lambda in Giacometti's Walking Man (Feb. 3, 2010) made me aware that the soul's form (Λ) supports our body when we walk, these geese are really flying not in V-formation but in the Λ or soul-formation.

Aha!— the Platonic Lambda,
Soul of the Universe— the geese
have purpose, a sense of direction

The Platonic Lambda, Soul of the Universe, is the sum of the double & triple interval series (Timaeus 35b):
1+2+4+8 = 15 and 1+3+9+27 = 40. See also Speculations on the Soul; Number 55; Dante's 55 & Platonic Lambda; Notes to Walking Man

making that arrowhead landing—
aiming always for the Soul's
flying— soaring to the One.

The English letter "V" is better known than the Greek letter "Λ", so the image of "geese flying in V-formation" stuck. But closer look of geese's actual flying pattern shows it's the Λ shape rather than the V-formation. The geese leading the pack resembles the number "1" at the apex of the Platonic Lambda from which the double & triple interval series follow. While Platonists adhered to "One Over Many", Plato himself had a vision of both— "From the gods a gift to the human race: thus I reckon the gift of seeing the One in the many and the many in the One." (Philebus, 16d) Socrates tell Parmenides "The All is one." (Plato's Parmenides) Plotinus writes "The One does not bear to be numbered in with anything else... it refuses to take number because it is measure and not the measured... in the realm of Being, The One establishes reality: existence is a trace of The One. (Enneads V.5.4-5). Nature of the One

Jacques-Louis David
Death of Socrates (1787)
Metropolitan Museum
of Art, New York

Raphael Sanzio
Plato in School of Athens (1508)
Stanza della Segnatura,
Vatican Museum
      John the Baptist

      Leonardo da Vinci
      St. John the Baptist (1516)
      The Louvre, Paris
  — Peter Y. Chou
      Mountain View, 12-1-2020