Swan Lessons

This past month, the swans have taken up residence in our local cove, for the first time in the six summers we’ve lived here.

What could be a more beautiful way to celebrate the birth minute of my husband’s milestone birthday than a sunrise with swans?

What smiles the swans have brought to all who pass by. Plus, they’ve provided a great opportunity for conversations with admiring strangers. (“We just counted 81! How many did you count?”)

They’ve also motivated me to do some quick online research.

Turns out those oddly-shaped black blobs that sometimes rest on their backs are a leg. One leg. What’s going on with that? Does one webbed foot suddenly get tired and need a rest? Does resting a leg on a back stretch out taut muscles tired from too much paddling? Does a wet foot on some overheated feathers add a cooling touch under the hot sun? And how do they manage to navigate, anyway, without going awry from having only one limb for paddling? (Yes, I’ve seen them locomoting with a webbed foot lying on their rump.)

The anthropologist in me is frustrated no end that I can’t ask them for a direct response to these growing questions. I’ll have to keep testing out my theories using that other classic ethnographic method (which I honed while studying babies in West Africa): observing behavior and ruling out unlikely hypotheses. I wonder how likely this experiment in inter-species ethnography is to succeed.

Meanwhile, never mind their human fan club. Oblivious of us, and despite their reputation for nastiness, the swans that have taken up residence in our local harbor have co-existed happily all month with geese, ducks, egrets, seagulls, and terns.

Dare I hope the waterfowl offer a model for us bickering humans to re-gain a sense of community spirit?

2 comments

  • Barbara Rubine

    Hi! I really enjoyed reading your observations about our lovely cove and its recent inhabitants. As I read this I peered out my kitchen window and saw a lone swan fly into the cove only to discover the rest of the flock has paddled off for an adventure in nearby waters. Thank you also for the nice pictures you included!

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