The Swan Cafe
This week, many feathers have been ruffled in Washington State. A new bill, #6255, has been introduced before House and Senate committees, down in our capitol, Olympia, Washington. And this government bill was born from the loneliness of another dear creature, who happens to also possess a bill, specifically, an orange and black one. I testified passionately on him behalf this week before a senate committee, with one wish– to get my billed friend a new mate.
Specifically, a new Princess. And bill #6255 will be the bill that allows my friend to find love again. But, first, let me start at the beginning of the story. Please, lean a little closer, and I will tell you the story of two beautiful and mated-for-life mute swans, Prince and Princess, who I have come to know and love very well.
It all started in the spring of 2006 when we moved into a home much closer to my parents so that they could help with our older son. The house I chose was a little unconventional– as it was a geodesic dome. But, what really sold me on the house was it’s location. You see, ever since I was four years old, I would lull myself to sleep with the same image every night. We lived in a drab Ohio town at the time and natural beauty was hard to come by. But, as I was falling asleep each night, I would envision the most perfect place my four-year-old mind could conjure up. This place was a placid lake at sunset. There were a few wafting clouds as the sky burst into a symphony of purples, vibrant pinks, and melo-dramatic blues. On this lake there were many reeds with cat tails. And in my mind, I could hear the sounds of ducks settling in for the night. There were so many ducks, and I imagined some of them preening and washing their wings, while others fluttered over the cat tails and created shadows against the sky. All in my mind’s eye, this image gently beckoned me to sleep each night, as my own dreams took flight. And I knew one day that, even though I had never seen such a place in real life, there would come a time when I would see this lake I envisioned, and when I did, I would move heaven and earth to live nearby.
One night in April of 2006, my husband and I had made an offer on a house that I knew wasn’t right for us. That night I went to sleep asking God for direction. At 4am that morning, I awakened with a start, and I felt impelled to go run an internet search on houses for the 50 millionth time. I knew I wouldn’t find anything new, but that little voice inside my head told me to search one more time. I used the search parameters I had always used, but this time it was different. A house I had never seen had just been re-listed on the market and it was 3 miles from my parents and fell within our budget. The very next morning, I drove to the house and knocked on the door. The couple who owned it had just returned home, and I told them I wanted to make a verbal offer on the house. The couple didn’t quite understand I was serious at first, and they gave me a tour of the interior.
After the tour was over, the wife, a girl named September, pointed across the street, and said, “Do you see all that vacant land over there? That also comes with the house and I want to show you”. I turned around and September was pointing out a small lake. I was flabergasted. “You mean those empty lots on the water also belong to the house?” She smiled. We walked through 3 foot over-grown grass and weeds to get to the small lake. When we arrived at a rickety dock, I nearly fainted. There in front of me was the very scene that I had seen in my own mind’s eye since I was a child. To my left, there were beautiful green bunches of high cat-tails. To my right, there were about 20 different mallards, a smattering of wood-ducks, and a blue heron flying over the lake. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was the very scene I had imagined all of these years. It was exactly as I had imagined it. I had no doubt at that moment that fate had intervened. And not only had fate intervened, fate had absolutely laid me flat with utter surprise. Just when I thought I had seen everything the world had to offer, I was standing there, in the flesh, in the very scene I had
But then, I spotted two dots out on the lake that would alter my own life forever. September pointed out toward the dots and she said, “Do you see those two? Those are the resident mute swans that live on the lake. If you bring them bread, they’ll come and visit you everyday”. Soon the dots got bigger, and pretty soon, a bonded-pair of pristine, white mute swans were quickly paddling towards us.
September pulled some bread out of her bag and called to the swans. When they arrived at the dock, the pair both wagged their tails so quickly that they splashed us with water. They hungrily ate the bread she offered to them and then bowed their heads in gratitude. I was in love.
We went back to her house and I arranged an impromptu contract and left a check to secure the house. I had not only found a house, I had actually found HOME. My realtor secured the contract that day and the offer was signed around. We were moved into the house in June. At this point you might be saying, “Big deal, she saw a couple of swans and they wagged their tails at her. They’re pretty, but certainly not life-altering”. Oh hardly did I know what the next years would bring after that first encounter. When we moved in, I stocked up on bread at Costco so I could feed the two swans daily and sit by the lakeside. The swans were timid at first but would hungrily eat the bread each time. They soon got used to me, and if they would see me outside, they would make a bee-line for the dock. And, each time, I fed them. And so it went, like clock-work for several months.
But then a strange thing happened. You know the joke “Why did the chicken cross the road”? Well, pretty soon, one of the swans started getting out of the lake and crossing the road to my house. And, it wasn’t because she just wanted to get to the other side. No, that was not good enough for the female swan who I named Princess.
Princess had much higher aspirations than just sitting in the lake all day, preening her feathers, following her ‘man’ around, and cleaning her webbed-toe nails. Nope, Princess had much bigger plans for herself.
You see, once Princess figured out that I was her regular ‘supplier’ for bread, well, she decided to be proactive. Princess was no longer content waiting for me. Oh no, Princess decided she would come and get me. She was a swan on a mission.
So, there I would be, sitting outside my deck, and I would watch Princess plop her big bottom out of the lake and onto land. And she’d stick her gawky, long, neck out, and start lumbering across the vacant land. Swans are very graceful in the water, but not so graceful on land. The first problem is, they have a 22 inch long neck, and ENORMOUS feet with long toe nails. They waddle and sway slowly from side to side as they make their way across land. She had definitely lost her center of gravity on land, but pretended to continue to be very elegant, which was hilarious.
And she’d waddle across the land, and come to the road, and she’d slowly make her way across the road until she stood at the bottom of my driveway. Was she almost there? oh, certainly not. You see, I have a very long driveway that slopes at a 45 degree angle. It’s very steep and a pain in the tush for a human to walk up. But that didn’t deter Princess. She’d look up at me sitting all the way up there, and she’d sigh, and she would start the slooowwwww climb up the driveway. And there she would go, one enormous foot in front of the other, side to side, neck stretched out ahead of her. She certainly was a sight.
But there was another problem. After she reached the top of the driveway, she had to hang a right, and walk up some steps to reach my house. So, I would watch her assessing my steps, and I could see her little swan brain turning over and over again how she was going to get up my steps without tying her neck in a bow and twisting her feet onto her back. Slowly but surely, she’d lift a web foot, and then push off with her other foot, and ‘Ommpphh!’ she made it up one stair. And then she’d do this until she had made it up all the stairs. And then she stood in front of my locked garden gate. The first time I witnessed this, I seriously could not believe my eyes. When I saw her come all that way and go through all that trouble, just to be met by a locked garden gate, my heart sank, and I said, “What the heck! I’ll just open the gate– it can’t do any harm”. And so, that day, I opened the gate for Princess, and she came into my yard looking for bread.
She did get bread that day, and bowls of water too. After she was done eating, she had to make the trip back. Poor Princess had to navigate back DOWN the stairs, and then back down the steep driveway, and she was undeterred even when she tripped and fell on her feathered butt. Soon enough, she was back in the lake, rejoining her mate, who waited patiently for her at the dock.
When my husband came home that day I recounted the whole story to him and I am sure he thought I was telling a tall tale or had a momentary lapse from sanity. I thought to myself that Princess surely would never try that again, and I’d never be able to prove that the swan came for a visit. But, Princess had much different plans.
The next day, I was upstairs in the kitchen doing dishes. All of a sudden, I heard a very loud knocking on my sliding glass door. I thought to myself, “Oh yay! It must be the UPS man with my new pair of 7 for All Mankind jeans. These UPS men sure know how to keep a girl happy”. When I headed downstairs, my UPS man had been transformed into a 3-foot tall, bleach white, swan with an range beak.
There Princess stood, looking through the glass on my sliding door, and knocking with her beak. I thought to myself, “Okay I am really seeing things now. There is a renegade swan knocking on my door”. But alas, I had left the garden gate open, and Princess let herself into the yard and decided to announce her visit with a loud knocking. Somehow she had figured out that when people pay a visit, they knock. But, she had no hands, and so her beak was the next best thing. That time I snapped a photo to show my husband.
I opened the door and said, “Princess, what are you doing here?!” She didn’t answer, because she’s a mute swan, you know. They really aren’t conversationalists.
I think Princess knows her lack of speaking makes her look demure and wordly, and ever so mysterious. At that point, Princess picked up her large, gray foot, and she attempted to enter my den. I said, “Oh no, Princess!! Houses aren’t for swans!”
And I shooed her out. I went and got bowls of food and water and set them in the garden. She spent about an hour happily munching on her mid-afternoon snack in the shade of my garden. Princess had somehow figured out that my house was the hottest new swan cafe, and it was definitely the place for posh swans such as her to see and be seen. In fact, this swan cafe was so exclusive, it only had one patron: Princess.
And then things just got even stranger….
(Stay tuned for part 2)
– Sarah Polyakov