In the company of swans, by Jude Holloway

There is something powerful that happens in one’s soul while in the company of swans, especially in winter, when the landscape so imitates the swans themselves—the purest of whites with shades of soft rust smudging the gentle curves of the snow-covered landscape with its drifts, forming peaks like the edges of feathers.
I’ve been in the company of swans.
Once, on a warm thirty-degree sunny winter day, perfect for a back country ski, I decided to ski along the Indian River, hoping I could find swans.
Skiing along the ridge above 0703iodthe river, I kept searching the black water below for a glimpse of a swan. Then I saw it. A lone, white U-shaped feather floating on the satin blackness.
Such a small, fragile little thing, viewed from a distance; could I find in the company of swans what I sought?” Somehow I knew if they were here, I would find them, or, they…me. The floating feather said it all. And so I skied on, rarely taking my eyes off the partially frozen ribbon of river far down on my left.
A coyote had been walking toward me on the trail, and may have gotten within view of me before climbing the bank on the right, since I was downwind and moving almost silently. I was searching the river so closely, that for a while I had released my awareness of other surroundings. The coyote tracks snatched my attention.
Conditions were ideal for viewing tracks. Buried beneath a layer of deep snow were old snowmobile tracks and what could have been a lone skier. I was glad they were from the past and that I was alone and in good company, if only vicariously through tracks.
I skied out of the dappling shade of the woods into the brilliant sunlight to one of the lakes along the river. I stood on the shoreline and let the sun’s warmth soak into my face. The exposed ice and newly fallen snow sparkled in the sun, almost blindingly. I heard a distant raven call, so I tried to quiet my breathing to listen. I became very aware of how quiet it was; except for a couple chickadees earlier, nothing had interrupted my thoughts since I left the truck back on Hwy 13.
Not a rustling leaf, not a gurgling from the river.
I entered a beautiful stand of pines and continued to follow the river upstream. I’ve always loved this section, and often have sat under these pines by the shore and sipped hot drinks from my little stove.
This is where I expected to see swans. I circled around the little widening of the river to the right. Last year I skied over it only to find myself sinking through the snow and slush until my boots were submerged. This time I went around instead.
As I came around and looked back, I saw them. Two swans, floating not far off shore. I watched for a long while and took pictures—if only my camera could capture even a tenth of the beauty I saw. My photographs would be as priceless as my experiences. I was standing near a pine that framed the swans. The blue of the sky, the wisps of white clouds, the silence are beauties that cannot be captured, only experienced.
As I watched the swans, I was intrigued by their mannerisms. They didn’t seem disturbed by me, and that was a great honor. Consequently, I was able to observe them being themselves; swans. They got up on the edge of the ice, and I recognized male and female, not so much by the size or physical traits, but by behavior.
She seemed so naive and innocent, and he so doting and affectionate. After a while, probably to regain warmth, they each brought one foot up and tucked it completely under their feathers.
They stood there for the longest time, as one-legged birds. Then both tilted their bodies sideward, exposing their under parts towards me (and the wind). Then slowly, together they twisted their long necks around tucking their heads on the backsides of their bodies and appeared to sleep. An oval of white on one leg.
Not wanting to violate their acceptance, I opted to go on. But I had a problem—there was a tributary close by and the snow bridge that I had used in the past years was reduced to a snow-covered log, far too narrow to try to cross. Down further there was what looked like a man-made submerged board walk. Maybe this was my old snow bridge.
The bank there looked somewhat familiar, but very steep, and I wasn’t sure how to approach it. I found out there was no good way to approach it, not on skis anyway. I ended up sliding down to the creek. I poked at the snow on the structure, only to have my pole poke through to water. At some point, I slid farther down, putting one ski in the water, and the other stuck in the snow of the bank. There was nothing for me to hold on to. I was in a mess.
The more I tried, even though I didn’t panic or move quickly, the more I gravitated to the water, which was probably knee-deep and six to eight feet across. My hands only sank into oblivion when I tried to brace myself to scoot up.
After some calculation and with a wet butt for motivation, I finally freed my skis, twisted around, and climbed back up the bank. I could not see how I could get across without a lot of inconvenience and difficulty, and with the sky clouding up, I figured I’d save it for another day.
I putzed around the point a little more, taking pictures of the swans from a distance. My body temperature had dropped considerably while laying on the bank getting wet, so I retraced my trail back to the pines.
While weaving under some thick branches, I didn’t realize it, but a branch had grabbed the hose of my camel back and torn the mouthpiece. Before I knew it, water from my pack bladder was pouring down my pack, back, butt and leg.
Now the sky was completely clouded over, so there was no solar heat. I adjusted the hose and returned the pack to my back and wrote it off as par for the course.
Rustling through those trees had awakened the swans, who were very close now, and I wondered what they must think of this human being fumbling through life, while they stood so unencumbered and stately in their simplicity. I got to the edge of the shore where they were and unloaded my pack. I got out my stove and heated the remaining water and made cocoa. There were patches of exposed grass, so I got comfy and sat and watched them. They didn’t seem interested in me. And contrary to human behavior and logic, that flattered me. Even when I spoke to them, they barely acknowledged it. This time, I was accepted, almost welcomed, but not significant, which in itself gave me peace.
The world sees the dove as the symbol of peace and love. I see the swans. Doves are fearful and flighty. Swans, for the most part, are calm, affectionate and the epitome of grace.
I hadn’t warmed the cocoa enough nor drunk it faster than the chill of the air, and I knew I had to leave, but it was so hard. I thought about them and how they didn’t leave. This was not only their world, it was their home. There was no other place they needed to be. And I thought about the night settling in, how they might be just as awake or resting during the night as during the day.
Would the coyote, whose tracks I’d seen, visit them? Would they be slipping into and out of the river all night? I know they have their threats, but their lives seemed of such peace and simplicity that I envied them. I’d like my life to be so simple. Sometimes life can get so caught up. Oh, to let go and just be in the company of swans.
As I glided back along the river again, I noticed swan tracks on the edge of the ice—swan tracks that had not been there when I skied in. It was then that I realized I had not found them, they had found me.
—Jude Holloway

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.