Swans

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A swan at Morgan Lake

The woman I love first fell in love with nature at Morgan Lake.  Morgan Lake is more of a large pond than a lake; on the outskirts of Poughkeepsie.

Poughkeepsie is both a town and a city that run together in a confusing way making it hard to distinguish the two.  Poughkeepsie is two hours north by train from the starry, vaulted ceilings of Grand Central Station in New York City.  On the train from New York City, the Hudson River dominates the view; a massive thing.  We’ve spotted a bald eagle, ducks, and wading birds on the Hudson River from the train.  There is a New York State fish advisories brochure I saved on my computer, it advises pregnant women and people under the age of fifteen not to eat any fish from the Hudson River due to pollutants.  There are complicated charts in the brochure telling the rest of us how many fish of what species can safely be consumed in a given period of time.  The Hudson has been so contaminated that many fish, especially bottom feeders like Walleye and Channel Catfish are unadvisable for anyone to eat at all.[1]  In the early morning hours it’s very common to see White-tailed Deer in Poughkeepsie, grazing in lawns and hiding among trees by the road.  Vassar College, located in Poughkeepsie hired sharp shooters to cull their deer population and prevent over population.  Poughkeepsie is nestled near the Catskills where the trees are a thousand shades of red and golden during autumn.

Morgan Lake is where my love went fishing with her father as a child.  It was at Morgan Lake where Erin, my girlfriend caught and killed so many fish that she had nightmares and became an overnight vegetarian.  More importantly Morgan Lake is where the Swans live.  Morgan Lake is a pretty little patch of water, surrounded by trees and manicured grass as many lakes and ponds in city limits.  There’s a small wooden dock on the lake where you can sit and watch the water or the animals who live there.

Swans are beautiful things, something not often seen where I was born in Wyoming or where I grew up in Colorado.  I once pulled a rental car off the road in Tasmania to gawk at black swans that were little more than black specks far out on a lake.  The swans at Morgan Lake are white and wholly beautiful.  Erin named two swans at Morgan Lake ‘Bob’ and ‘Melissa’ when she was a little girl.  Bob and Melissa nested and Melissa laid eggs as swans are apt to do.  Erin trying only to satisfy her curiosity tried to get close to the nest and the swans chased her away with angry beating wings; her father only chuckled.  Erin watched the swans and learned something about how they protected their young.

All these years later, Erin is still enraptured by Morgan Lake, thrilled to see there are still two Swans (we doubt they could be Bob and Melissa; how long do swans live anyway?).  Morgan Lake is just a small body of Water near the Hudson and the Catskills but Erin loves it; it’s the way of places we fall in love with.

One year Erin saw one of the adult swans nuzzling a signet; the dead baby floated in the lake and the whole scene had a deep sense of sadness to her young mind.  Erin never knew what killed the signet but the idea that humans could be involved was inescapable.  The idea of helping animals guided Erin’s life for years afterward.  Erin worked at two veterinary clinics and an animal shelter.  A degree in conservation biology and an internship in Madagascar working on a lemur conservation where I was also working in reforestation brought Erin into my life.

I had a conversation with a documentary film maker about swans.  The man had watched a whole year in the life of swans in his home town of Minneapolis Minnesota.  Minneapolis has more lakes than any city in the United States he told me.  There are lakes, ponds, pools and other assorted bodies of water throughout the twin cities area, land of a thousand lakes indeed.  The film maker had documented with fascination the swans mating, laying eggs, the hatching of their young, all from a distance.  One thing that struck me about the story of making the film wasn’t the swans themselves.  The documentary film maker told me that people walked by the swans, not ten feet away without even taking a glance towards the beautiful creatures.  Swans in all their glory are a symbol of beauty, majesty, innocence even and they deserve to be these things.  People walk around in their heads, obsessed with their jobs, their social media and what they’ll eat for dinner.  Americans are stressed, strained and neurotic, choked by our own fears and worries, locked in houses and cars and businesses.  Not far from all those people are feathered things with the power to inspire action, awe and joy.  All around us are swans and all we have to do is open our eyes and look.

[1] New York Department of Health, Hudson River Health Advice on Eating Fish You Catch, PDF from health.ny.gov/fish

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