Had an imminent cold snap been pressing in on the region the swans may have been in peril. But as it was with the air temperature already above freezing they were merely inconvenienced. The lake was almost entirely covered with a sheet of ice that was too thin for the swans to stand on but too thick to swim through. And so they sat, each in their own perforation in the ice.
It was on my morning commute that I spotted them as I drove by the lake. I immediately parked along the road, work was going to have to wait this day. Grabbing my binoculars, I walked to the shore near the swans. There were six of them, and it was odd to see these majestic birds in such an awkward predicament.
One juvenile swan attempted to swim over to another. But he could only gain an inch at a time with each budge against the ice. Another young swan tried getting his feet out ahead of him and in a brief, dramatic thrashing he was able to make a foot of progress but then gave up. Another swan that appeared to be a full adult tried another method that was more effective and more gracefully fitting of a swan. He would lift his chest and swim forward, breaking the ice by laying his body down on top of it. With each movement an odd keew sound emanated from the ice, like someone twanging a high-tension cable.
Meanwhile, right along the shore in a patch of open water a small flock of mallards swam freely. One paddled over to the edge of the ice and looked at the swans with a look of bemusement. A new pair of ducks came in for a landing. However, they overshot the open water. The drake dropped into the ice with a thunk, immediately coming to a halt. The hen was coming in just behind and to the right of him, and seeing her mate’s descent from flight to plight she quickly aborted her own landing, taking back to the air.
After creating some space for himself, the elder swan suddenly spread his grand white wings and launched himself free from the hole he had created. The other five seemed to say, “Well, ok, I guess that works, too,” and the flock joined together in taxiing down the frozen runway. When swans take off they will run across the surface of the water for a long way, their big, webbed feet slapping the lake with a WHAP-WHAP-WHAP! But on the delicate layer of ice the sound instead was a TAK-TAK-TAK. And then they were gone.
Such an event should simply be left for what it is. It seems a shame to try to derive some meaning or divine some human lesson from this moment. Nonetheless I will. What I took from this experience, in addition to a gossamer memory, is that even in the awkward moments there is grace and beauty to be found. Also, when faced with a challenge we should stick with what we’re good at. If that doesn’t work, adapt. If that still doesn’t work, find something else you’re good at. Work together with others and get them to join you. Soon all will be soaring.
Image courtesy of dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net