Not a great fan of the ballet….or opera. I like the music….most of it. I just get bored sitting and watching the music acted out. I think that may have more to do with my attention deficit than the actual presentation. Sitting through the Nutcracker or The Magic Flute ballets is a chore. Only the music captivates me. But something about that beautiful scene from Swan Lake where the swans do that dance right at the end, and especially the music accompanying it, gives me goosebumps.
My eldest first saw The Nutcracker at age 2 1/2 and was spellbound. I thought it would be a mistake taking her, but her mum said she’d be fine. She was more than that. I enjoyed watching her more than the ballet. That was in Toronto when we had just come back from living in France. She was the same when we took her to see the Magic Flute. The Nutcracker became an annual for the three of us until her brother was born. He was not so thrilled.
Getting away from the ballet, I must say that actual swans have always fascinated me. Their grace in movement is captivating. They glide on the water, their necks remaining straight and never moving. Unlike ducks and those wretched Canadian Geese that seem to propel themselves by pushing their necks forward and backward as they swim. Swan swim appears effortless. A pleasure to watch. Before we began living on the boat, I saw swans infrequently, in a park pond or in protected areas. Now I see them all the time.
Swans come in a few types and are related to the goose family, including ducks. The snootier cousins one might say. For those who must know, swans are from the Anatidae family, genus Cygnus. There are about 7 species, the most common where I live are Mute swans. No, their voice box has not been removed, they are simply noiseless except for a hissing sound they make if annoyed….seems to be frequently in some cases. The name swan has its root in the Indo-European name swen, meaning to sound or to sing….which doesn’t seem to apply to Mute swans.
All swans are protected in Britain and ostensibly owned by the Queen. How she looks after them all I don’t know. Swans mate for life unless a male dies and the female finds another mate. Divorce can occur if nesting fails. Men are so fickle in this case. On an average, 3-8 eggs are layed in a clutch. Males are known as cobs and females are pens. The kids are swanlings or cygnets.
We have a family of five in our marina, our own little private lake of swans if you like. They venture out onto the canal to see if the pickings are any better out there, but they always come back….mum, dad and three swanlings. I have seen them swooping over my head and landing on the marina lake. Majestic. The sound of their wings flapping is almost deafening when they are so close. The wingspan on the adults is enormous. A sight I’ll never forget.
They visit each boat in the marina. If they see you on the jetty to your boat, they make their way to you first. Contrary to certain myths out there, swans are allowed to eat bread. Unlike other water fowl of their genre, swans are not greedy. They only eat what they need. A pleasure when they come by, eat and leave respectfully. Only occasionally will one of them hiss at me if I get too close or neglect their needs.
An adult, probably the dad, the biggest swan, comes over first. If I have nothing, it’s usually the kids that let me know their displeasure. But mostly they are polite and swim away once fed or they’ve figured out I have nothing to offer. Every so often you hear about a naughty swan. Where my best friend used to work, they had a swan on a nearby lake. They called him Psycho. He had no mate and was grumpy all the time.
Watching them from my boat or on the canal is like watching a ballet only in a natural setting and these are real swans, not dancers pretending to be. That appeals to me. The real thing. Real swans on a real lake. Nothing against artistic interpretation you understand, but I could sit and watch these beauties all day and not get restless….in fact, I have. That’s saying something for a man with the attention span of a goldfish.
I haven’t given them names. Well….I do call the dad Buzz. Don’t ask why. He hissed at me once. I hissed back. He hasn’t done it since. I took a walk up the towpath one day and saw the whole family cleaning themselves. I walked very close to get a picture and they must have known it was the guy who always had the best food. They let me get really close without any of them bothering with me. The dad did look at me, cocked his head and went back to cleaning himself. I think he might have been making sure I got his best side.