Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air --
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music - like the rain pelting the trees - like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds -
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?
I'm so glad I found this poem to share with you; it captures my recent experience in a nearby cove. Knowing that a pair of swans returns each Spring to the river to nest, I drove to the sequestered spot at water's edge. All the locals know it, and respectfully watch for the birds' return. Their arrival is a harbinger of Spring.
Sure enough, as I inched my car along the riverbank, he was gliding toward me. Dignified. Calm. Regal. I parked, and got situated with my camera. He coasted a bit closer, as if to say, "Here I am. This is my good side. Snap the picture now."
And I did.
Another bird watcher was inching her car along the river's edge, and she motioned me over. In hushed, almost worshipful tones, she enthused, "Go downriver a little ways, and look across the water. She's building the nest!"
She continued on, smiling and waving like we were old friends. And we were, in a way -- kindred spirits having survived one of the harshest winters Northwest Pennsylvania can dish out. I know our smiles were giddy with relief at having made it through, our faces turned upward toward a benevolent sun.
I took another look at Mr. Handsome. Then I got back in the car and moseyed on downriver.
There she was.
I didn't want to disturb; peering through the passenger side window, I took it all in -- a beautiful ritual, an affirmation of Life and Rebirth and Spring. A poem, really. She was nesting, and I was a grateful witness. She was sure, intentional, like any mother of the house. Sitting in pure white splendor amid the mud and reeds, she was a study in contrast. Her billowy feathers and gracefully arced neck provided a white ribbon of hope in the debris of winter. I imagine she will be keeping the eggs warm at about the time of the Great Greening Up; that mysterious interval when the forest goes from weary to lush in one eternal blink of our Creator's Eye.
Oblivious to my presence, she looked this way and that, carefully selecting twigs, grass and reeds for her beautiful egg harbor. She was building and I was watching and the meter of it was a poem - a lovely, awakening display of snowy plumage arranging the loamy earth around itself.
Thank you, Mary Oliver, for your poem, The Swan. Your parting challenge, "And have you changed your life?" haunts me. It calls to me on the edge of the wind and nudges me into places I haven't thought about since Winter's grip came calling.