Traveling with Wild Swans

From  The Wild Swans  by Hans Christian Anderson, illustration by Anne Yvonne Gilbert

From The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Anderson, illustration by Anne Yvonne Gilbert

Driving north from Seattle to visit family in Vancouver, we passed fields in Skagit Valley white with migrating swans. Trumpeter Swans and their smaller cousins the Tundra Swans come south from Alaska and stop here, along with Snow Geese. They feed, fly about, socialize and roost. On average, 4000 swans come every year, after being nearly hunted to extinction in the 1800's for lady's hats and powder puffs. I'd forgotten they are here this time of year - and what luck, what beauty just next to the highway.

"Look Xavier, look Georgia! Swans!"

Two days later, driving home again, I saw three huge swans flying just above me, long necks elongated and pointing straight towards their destination: the fields where all their family stood or slept or cavorted. Seeing them in flight is even better than seeing them clustered in a field or floating on the water. A magical presence. My friend Alley, who used to live in Seattle and now lives in Vermont, sighed on the phone, "Ahhh Skagit Valley. Swans. You are being ushered by graceful beings."

I turn the volume on the stereo way up for Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky and tell Xavier there are heroes coming in the swelling forte parts (he's into superheroes and ninjas at present so this dramatic music appeals to him). I pull down The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Anderson from our shelf to read. Might Xavier be ready now, at 4 1/2, for The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White? All I can think about are swans. Where is my framed photograph of sleeping swans in a snowstorm I bought in Alaska? Did I give it away in one of my many changes of address? I want it back now for my children's room; I want them to rest with sleeping swans. I want to rest with sleeping swans.

When I was in early labor with Xavier in the month of May, Christian and I walked slowly around Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park where there live a few resident swans. A single fuzzy cygnet had hatched and was trailing his parent in the water. That little cygnet felt like a sign for me alone, a hope I held in my mind throughout the long hours of giving birth.

Here, a poem by Joyce Sidman from her children's book Winter Bees and Other Poems of the Cold:


Dream of the Tundra Swan

Dusk fell
and the cold came creeping,
cam prickling into our hearts.
As we tucked beaks
into feathers and settled for sleep,
our wings knew.

That night, we dreamed the journey:
ice-blue sky and the yodel of flight,
the sun's pale wafer,
the crisp drink of clouds.
We dreamed ourselves so far aloft
that the earth curved beneath us
and nothing sang but
a whistling vee of light.

When we woke, we were covered with snow.
We rose in a billow of white.” 

~ Joyce Sidman

Sarah Burns