A Swan's Day, Part 3

All the different kinds of waterfowl, hanging out, acting like one species.  See how the swans are evenly spaced, like they're playing defense?  Seals do that too.

I haven’t told you why I actually go to see the swans. Well, not the whole story.  It’s not just because of the way they spread their wings and the light comes through, even though that’s part of it.  And it’s not because of all the things they do.  It’s because of all the things they don’t do.  Most of the time they just sit there.  Most of the time when I go to take their pictures I just sit there too.  I sit there watching them through my camera.  I can’t put my camera down because every twenty minutes or so, they’ll do something for about three seconds.  If I turn away I’ll miss it.  I wait and wait.  That’s how I take my bird pictures.

This is what I love about them - the way they pass their time.  The way it seems so simple, there floating on the pond - day after day, taking turns on the rock.  They don’t seem to need much more. 

They could be more productive.  They could exercise their judicial system, for example, as we saw in the previous post.  They could fly more, flirt more, maybe collect some grass and put it aside. It's not that they couldn't do it.  When they set their mind on something, you know they really get it done. 

I can hear the thrumming of their wings before I even see them.  One time I was so close that I could feel the wind created by their flight.  And I mean wind, not the baby’s breath you would expect from somebody’s feathers.  I mean wind.  These are powerful animals.  If properly motivated, they could be quite the economic engine.  It’s just that they choose not to do that. They are not the type to measure the meaning of their lives by how fast they go all the time.  They have a few things to do and they do those things, and nothing, nothing more. They know that doing nothing is important for their survival.  This is especially true, I believe, when it’s cold, like it is right now.  It’s not a time to burn any extra calories.  It’s a time to face the wind, and wait.

I could slow down a little.  Perhaps I could use some faith.  I don’t mean I could use some doctrine.  I mean that I could know some things the way that the swans know them, the way they depend on certain things for their lives.  I can sit on the chair right now for example, and know it will hold me up the way the water holds the swans.  I can take a breath and know that the oxygen is here, already right here.  I can know that when the sun is setting, it will come up again.  I can realize that much of what I need is here, as if the world is built that way, as if I belong in the world or belong to the world, like any other creature.

We’re on the island.  I hear Bill upstairs and he’s walking around – he had a fever last night and I’m waiting to see how he does as the day moves forward.  In a minute I’m going to have my coffee.  I’m going to finish this post.  We’re about to have a blizzard, and it’s supposed to start, actually, right now.  It’s the time in the morning when the sun is rising but it’s getting darker and darker.   The lights that were out on the water just a few minutes ago have been hidden in falling snow. Now I can't even see the Southeast Light, which is right by our house, but I can still see its green beacon, cutting through.  I suspect I won't see it for much longer.   Oh, wait, now I can’t see it.  Oh now I can, but just for a minute.  It’s gone.

I went to the grocery store last night to get a few things because of the storm.  On the way back up the hill to our house, I partially saw and partially felt the passage of a snowy owl.  There is nothing like a snowy owl coming out of nowhere, coming right over, big and close, moving fast, a darker shadow in the darkness.  I’ve looked for snowy owls before and this year I’ve decided not to do it.  It’s so important to leave them alone.  I don’t trust myself, once I get close to a good picture, not to go too far.  They can be targets for crows if you flush them.  They can burn too much energy and starve.  I’ve promised myself I won’t risk their lives that way.  But here he was - a big one and he flew right over me, turning and rising over the truck, his floppy wings, amazing in their size and their silence.  I wondered if my truck got between him and his prey because I think he was diving for something and then suddenly veered off.  I didn’t get a picture, but I did get what I wanted, that feeling of his wild nature - that feeling of mystery and power and hunting and seeing in the dark – a feeling that went right down into my bones.

Perhaps it will be a quiet day.  Perhaps today, I’ll just be a small person inside of a big storm.  I’ll do what’s important.  I’ll go sit beside Bill and make sure he doesn’t do too much because he thinks he’s suddenly better and that he should start leaping around. 

Now, the snow is blasting sideways.  It’s sticking to the windows.  It’s leaving layers of white.  (I think I just got my wish for a room of white, like feathers on a swan.)  I just heard a clap of thunder and now another and another. There are house sounds, little clicks, the windows rattling, the beams adjusting, the heat kicking in, thank God.  The wind is starting to sound like a jet flying by or maybe it’s the ocean roaring.  Oh now, when the wind is rising, I can hear that there are two sounds, the higher shifting pitch of the wind, and the sea that’s like a base note, steadily running under all the other sounds. The sky and the ocean are speaking. The wind is walloping the house.

The snowy owl is out there.  The swans are out there too.  (I can see them clearly in my mind because I’ve seen them so many times.  They won’t fly in wind like this.  It could dislocate their shoulders. ) The swans are together, facing the wind.  The owl is alone.  He’s found a dune or a wall, or something to block the worst of it.  His eyes are shut.  The white snow is building up on his white body. 

That’s it.  They can wait for hours.  Animals can do that.  They don’t need what we need or think we need.  They don’t need anything but their lives.

My owl has fluffy white feathers around his beak and around his legs.  He's especially built for the cold.  He’s built for this storm, but still.   I’ve been worrying about him and about the swans.  My friend Edie has informed me that they know what to do and that they’ll be all right.  This, I do believe.

PS.  I just figured out how to do this, put a video up in YouTube and then "embed" it here.  I wanted you to see the swans, being peaceful, like I said.  If you like it and want to share it, please feel free as it will give me more than my current number of YouTube views, which is 2 views, both accomplished by me.  I've never done this before.  I think it's working but if you have any problems, let me know.


Swans on Sacchem Pond