My Life with Wild Swans, Summer
Last Sunday at Grist Mill pond, I met a very knowledgeable gentleman and enjoyed chatting with him about the great outdoors. We covered a lot of ground: Water Chestnut, Lily leaf beetles, other invasive species and how they got here, Lyme Disease… and of course the annoyingly piercing whistler photographer, who whistled at William for 50 shots, to get him to turn his head (I wanted to slug him).
Yesterday there was a strolling couple, (always entertaining, these Summer outings), trailed by a man wearing a cap and carrying a big stick. He seemed like a park ranger type, waxing eloquent about all things ‘swan,’ but some of his facts were off. Even more annoying, he seemed more interested in his soliloquy than the real-life swan saga taking place in front of him — as he was telling the couple how aggressive swans are, I was sitting sweetly beside them on a rock in the water.
The couple found me fascinating and asked all kinds of wonderful questions: Why do they stay here with all this gunk in the water? What do they eat all winter? Why don’t they have babies? Why did Bella just hiss at you? (They had asked and remembered their names, which I found most endearing).
The orator would not let me finish my sentences (people are funny). He told them the swans could take their arm off; that part is true. And he did say one remarkable thing (he was talking like he owned the pond, and he’s not even from Sudbury, MA!) — he said the pond got cleaned, where he comes from in Michigan, by removing the stuffing from an old mattress and dragging the exposed springs across the bottom, tied to a power boat. I love the visual. Even if it didn’t work, it would be wicked fun.
His other service to me, as I picked through my annoyance at his know-it-all attitude, was a kick in the pants to start typing the Story of William, pages of which have been sitting at the edge of my computer desk waiting to come to life. “I’ll type it up on the next rainy day,” I’ve said repeatedly and not done so. Is it a story that anyone else can tell? I might start with this story: Once upon a time, there was a peaceful pond. And dumb ass people came with their whistling and their bravado and wrecked it for everyone. The End. Oops; I’m bad.
William & Bella behaved quite nicely except for her hissing, which she really can’t seem to help (I’ve never had a swan continue to hiss even after they’ve come to love me, and she clearly does, so am not taking it personally but it didn’t look good in front of strangers). “No, she likes me! It’s instinctual, her go-to setting.” The park ranger offered many theories, one of which was that I was too close to her mate, which is funnily ironic because all four of William’s partners have respected his great love for me, by going off at the end of visits to leave us to our “special time”. All four of them! They totally get it. It would have been impossible to explain this to The Ranger. Which is why I should write the book.
William & Bella in the highly invasive Water Chestnut. This year we will try treating the pond with an herbicide which won’t harm the wildlife, fish, native plants. I am so looking forward to this plan, as I’ve been pulling the gunk by hand, quietly and dutifully (not at all cheerfully. Well, it’s a tiny bit satisfying but there is just so much of it. There’s hardly any open water by July) for 20 years, before I discovered the ‘Hop Brook Protection Association’ and became a member of the board. I came up with a fancy title for myself but have forgotten it. Something about Documentation, which is my middle name (oh, I remember. It’s ‘Documentarian’!) The last photograph is after the hand pulling (thank you Fish&Wildlife!) this past August. Half clear, reflecting, a drop in the bucket but a beginning! It’s so very beautiful when it’s free of weed. For the first time ever, William and Bella had to leave to find food elsewhere. They left in August (not to Hager. Maybe to Bella’s old stomping grounds, the mysterious place she came from) but they returned after a month or so, and I was delighted to see them again. I do what I can to sustain them, but it simply wasn’t enough. If swans eat aquatic vegetation by feeding at the pond’s bottom, and they cannot reach the bottom because the weeds strangulate them, they will starve. I felt so helpless.