See the pretty swan

While chaperoning my daughter’s 2nd grade field trip last week, I got to be one with nature for a couple hours. As nature is prone to do, it gave me pause and spawned some deeper thoughts. The setting for this week’s thoughts was the Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary. Even amidst the chaos of 50 rambunctious children, I was able to step within. Ponder. Reflect. Contemplate. I swear, I must have a little Thoreau in my veins.

I started my day by learning, alongside the 2nd graders, some redeeming qualities about geese. Despite being nasty, soccer field-invading, turd-dropping creatures, geese actually mate for life (admirable in any species, as far as I am concerned), and they co-parent very nicely. Both the father and mother care for the goslings and share all the goose-duties equally. Can I get an amen for that? Monogamy, mutual respect, and equal distribution of labor. Now, that’s something I can get on board with! Chock one up for the geese!

Geese and goslings
(notice how both parents are present with each set of goslings?)

Next, we talked about bugs, insects (and no, contrary to popular belief, bugs and insects are not one in the same), poison ivy, horticulture, the delicate ecosystem, and the circle of life. I watched the kids, my daughter in particular, hang on every single word the tour guide uttered. It brought me incredible joy to see this distracted, tech-dependent generation so connected to the beauty around them.

Frog in water

Fallen tree

Lily pads

However, it was the story of the swans in the big pond that really got my wheels turning. As we made our way over the boardwalk and onto the edge of the pond, one of the children exclaimed, to no one in particular, “See the pretty swan!” All of a sudden, the young group was abuzz as they watched the mother swan and her flock of signets swimming in the water across the pond. It made me chuckle momentarily, because the first thing that came to mind was the Dick and Jane books that many of us read when we were children.

See the pretty swan.
Dick sees the pretty swan.
“Jane, come see the pretty swan,” Dick says.

The excitement from the children prompted a ‘teachable moment’ from the guide about the life habits of swans. The mother does all the parenting on her own, something I am sure many of my female readers can relate to. As a matter of fact, the dad was off on his own “man-pond” while we were there, just chilling out. I couldn’t help but chuckle as I envisioned the man-swan in his tricked-out man-pond, mindlessly flipping channels while the mother swan hunted, groomed, taught, and protected the young in their adjacent home-pond.  Sometimes nature mimics humanity in uncanny ways.

Yes, swans are beautiful and graceful–one of nature’s many gifts–but they are extremely territorial. The adult swans claimed that pond as their own, and as long as they are alive, they will viciously attack anything that tries to infringe on their territory. Once the signets are grown up, if they try to come back to their childhood home, the parents will not let them, and will attack their own young. This reference made me recall a chapter in Gerald May’s book, The Wisdom of Wilderness, in which he paints a picture of the day he witnessed a swan drowning a baby duck in the pond he used to go to for solace. He describes it as a slow, deliberate, methodical attack in which the swan submerges the duck repeatedly, and without mercy, until the duck dies a slow, painful death. This attack occurred with no apparent provocation. Violence for violence‘s sake.  (Our guide referred to swans as “bullies.”)

Swan on a pond

There is no doubt that nature and humanity are alike. Does humanity mimic nature? Does nature take its cues from humanity? Both? Neither? Beauty juxtaposed with violence, so prevalent everywhere we turn.

I guess, since last week, I am pretty convinced that there will always be violence. Whether it be by design, as in the rose and the thorns. Or the cosmic violence of storms and seas. Or the violence for violence’s sake that takes place in almost every inner-city the world over. Or the cunning attacks of the cowardly bully on his/her prey. But, I am also more convinced than ever that we have a duty–a responsibility–to do whatever we can to infuse as much beauty and goodness into society/nature/life as we possibly can. To make the world a better place. To use our humanness and our capacity to love to infuse positive changes into society. To implant love, rather than hate. More fortification, less destruction. More understanding, less judgment. More giving, less taking. To empower, rather than castrate. To be aware instead of numb.

You see, the swans and the storms and the thorns don’t have the level of consciousness that humans have. They just are. We, on the other hand, have choices. The choice to not only not drown that duck (as the swan did), but perhaps to even reach out and try to save it. To not settle for the hand that has been dealt, but to always strive for something better — a higher level of consciousness. At this point in our societal development, don’t you agree that we should be much more evolved? Much more united? Much more in sync? Much more responsible?

I sincerely hope we get there. But in the meantime, did you happen to see that pretty swan?