A Swan Story

Paddling my kayak blissfully in Liberty Reservoir one lovely April day, I heard the most ungodly, raucous trumpeting noise. “What on earth was that?!” I wondered to myself as I sought to identify the source. The trumpet sounded again. I followed the clamor up a small tributary to an unsuspecting grove of willows. There emerged the perpetrator of such a profane disturbance – A swan. An immense cohesion of plush white feathers, a gracefully arching neck, and beady, questioning black eyes. With all the bravado of a British Man-of-War sailing from port, the great swan approached, then circled my measly yellow kayak with fearless audacity. Finally, he turned and glided soundlessly down the lake. I paddled after, slowly. When I was a mere 50 feet away from this outstanding creature, he would turn and take off again, never leaving any indication of his presence but a ripple in the cool, black water. Charmed, I followed him quite a distance when it dawned on me: This seemingly coy play was not without purpose. He was not leading me to something; he was leading me away from something. With a dip of my paddle I turned my kayak and returned to the willow marsh. Just as I suspected, the swan had been protecting something: a nest, with another of these majestic creatures and four gray, fuzzy little signets. The mother swan quickly collected up her brood and herded them into the grasses.

I snapped a few pictures and returned home to look them up. “Mute Swans” (“Mute?” I thought, “That thing was anything but mute.”) said the text – were non-native to the region and a “threat to other waterfowl.” I glanced back at my pictures and wondered how anything so beautiful could be a threat. One pair of swans on a 3,000 acre lake? No way.

Throughout the early summer, I often paddled back to the nest to visit my secret family. Each time the signets would be bigger and rowdier. Eventually, there would be one less, and one less until they were all gone. One final day in July, I came back and both of the two great swans were gone for the year. I never did find out where they went.

The year passed, as years do, and I again returned that April to check in on the season’s swan family. Again, the enormous male would try to lead me on his merry chase, but, wise to his game, I would continue up the branch to the nest. The nest itself was something else. It was a giant, haphazard collection of sticks, branches, grasses, and anything a swan might find suitable to a nest. Its sheer size alone was impressive to me; the way it protruded out of the water as its own island reminded me of a great Scottish castle on a cliff.

Had they nested yet? Were there eggs? How many? Would they all hatch? Would they all survive? My adventures to this private world gave me tremendous satisfaction and joy. Edging my kayak just close enough to glimpse the group before retreating. No intrusion. No threat. My impact on the swans was nothing, but their impact on me is forever etched in my mind. And that’s how our interaction with nature should always be.

I enjoyed my secret rendezvous’ for three years. Then, one day in the spring, I paddled with quiet anticipation up the branch and was greeted with a gloomy silence. The occupants gone, I approached the swans’ nest and peered in. Inside sat two forlorn, unkempt eggs. Huge, clearly swan eggs, they simply lay there, dirty and abandoned. They had been laid, in hopes of a brand new family, and now they were just a dismal relic of the past. I paddled away with questions and a heavy heart. Later, I checked back at the nest a couple more times, but no swans. No swans there ever again.

I don’t know what happened to the swans. I probably don’t want to. Did they just mysteriously leave? Did someone shoot them? Were they taken by

illness? Were they trapped and removed? Does anyone know?

The hauntingly beautiful willow marsh is not the same without them. I miss them.

Have you ever had an experience like this? Comment back and let me know.

The hauntingly beautiful willow marsh is just not the same without them.  I miss them.