Yesterday, twelve trumpeter swans plunked down on the waters of Twin Lakes. This morning most of them sleep with their long necks arcing out and back so their heads rest on their backs. A few feed, with their bottoms pointing skyward, on pondweeds. I lock Aki in the car and quietly move toward the big birds. A pair feeding just ten feet off shore ignore me and the mallards that paddle around them.
Later, with Aki on a moraine trail, I think about the barnyard like aspect of my swan sighting. True, they just flew over 1500 miles from their breeding areas in north and western Alaska. They are probably too exhausted or hungry to respond to people on a nearby dog-walking trail.
I remember the mute swans that crowded the Thames River on my visit to Eton. From a rented bicycle I watched birds as graceful and beautiful as today’s trumpter swans fight each other for access to ice cream cones on offer from tourists with tickets to Windsor Castle in their pockets.
Thirty years ago, I watched a small family of swans break into flight when my skiff eased out of a small stream and onto a grass-lined lake in Western Alaska. Late afternoon sun brightened their feathers as they struggled to lift off the lake. In seconds, they were just dots in the blue sky. Even though today’s swan viewing and the one I enjoyed on the Thames allowed sufficient time to appreciate the grace and beauty of the lovely birds, only the brief visitation with tundra swans on that Western Alaskan lake seemed like a gift.