I was well over forty when I saw my first wild swan. I was crossing a stone bridge in Cambridge, England, and below me were a pair of mute swans gliding past, the water rippling in their wake. Their bright orange bills were topped with a bulbous black knob. After that, I seemingly found them everywhere in Europe’s lakes and ponds, even a semi-frozen one in Sweden. I never grew tired of seeing them.
My parents were nature-adverse, and so my image of swans grew out of music, starting in high school when a gifted student cellist played “Le Cygne” by Camille Saint-Saëns. Right then, I began a lifelong love of the cello and swans.
Much later, I attended a mesmerizing performance of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, with its transcendent music and timeless story of love, betrayal and tragedy. My swan music was topped off by a Jean Sibelius tone poem, “The Swan of Tuonela”, This swan is guarding a mystical kingdom, the Finnish version of Hades, surrounded by a dark, wide river. You can hear the birch trees tremble in the winds of winter in this music.
A few tidbits about swans. Only seven species exist worldwide. They are quite heavy and large birds that mate for life, rather aggressive and territorial in courting season, and can live over twenty years. Saint Hugh is their patron saint. He was much respected as bishop of Lincoln, appointed in 1186. There are stories about how he challenged an angry mob that were persecuting innocent Jews and set them free. His best friend was a swan, which followed him everywhere, even slept in his bedroom.
Enjoy these swans. Perhaps you might augment with a little swan music…