Swan Song

The pond is almost at the far end of our retirement community. A small dock enables an occasional fisherman to cast a line into the still water. He or she may actually bring in a bass big enough to keep, but the pond isn’t especially popular with locals who know every fishing spot in the county.

At twilight, a great blue heron perches on a piling leaning out of the water. Our resident herd of deer include the pond in their daily rounds of woods and a stream. Sometimes a raccoon dips his evening meal into the water—perhaps to enhance the flavor?

Just over a fairly steep slope overlooking the pond are the buildings of a private Quaker school. After the grandfather of two young students took a stroll in back of the school and discovered the pond, he had an idea. Unfortunately, he didn’t share it with the headmaster of the school and the director of our community; they both knew the aggressive nature of male swans. The grandfather ordered, all the way from California, a pair of huge, snowy white swans at a cost of $2,000 each for air express. When the swans arrived in Maryland, the headmaster refused them, leaving them in the care of our community.

At a distance Louis, the male, looked regal and elegant as he glided over the pond, protecting his spouse. However, as a visitor approached, he began to assume a threatening stance—his massive wings outstretched and quivering as he drew near his intended victim. The male was fearless. As the postman drove by the pond, Louis rushed out of the water and pecked the side of the mail truck. Twice two hapless residents didn’t run fast enough to escape. Louis’ bite was painful enough to send each man to the ER of a nearby hospital. Other residents, especially those using a walker, became too leery to continue past the pond on their walk down Quaker Lane. As soon as Louis spied a strange creature rolling slowly toward his domain, even if he were at the far end of the pond, he began to go into his attack glide.

There were other problems with the swans. Their care and management were expensive. One extremely cold winter the pond froze, leaving Louis and his mate entrapped in the ice. Because they couldn’t fly out of their predicament, our director and his maintenance employees had to find a way to get to the birds and free them. They used an electric cable to melt the ice and clear a passage for the swans.

Sadly, Louis’ mate passed away and another swan had to replace her. Then finally, the swans were more trouble than they were worth in pleasure for our community. It isn’t easy to relocate a pair of swans, but at last a farmer in another county was willing to remove them to a pond on his property.

That was the last we have heard of our real-life version of “Swan Lake.”

*****

Several years passed as our winters have grown milder. The pond has played host to small flocks of migrating birds. Our community has experienced mixed reactions to Canada geese making their permanent home on our pond and its environs. Some of us love their perky personalities, their sense of family, especially each spring when the proud parents parade their offspring in single file for all of us to admire. But goose poop is a real nuisance. For a while a resident who owned a dog that loved to chase the geese kept them temporarily away from our campus. After that man passed away, another dog owner helped discourage the birds from laying their eggs in the rushes beside the pond. But the geese only found new secret places for nests. The maintenance men tried coating the eggs with oil, but that practice was eventually discontinued. I’m not sure what the status of the pond and its inhabitants is now, but I think it must be a lure for magical moments when we are especially aware and alert to life around us.

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