Monday, September 19, 2005

Becoming a Swan

When I first moved to Dublin, I stayed with some friends who lived a good bit closer to the city centre than we do now. Living there was great (mostly because our friends never touched my laundry or asked me where I was going) and I was able to walk into town. Being a bum, I did this quite frequently.

It was spring and I’d walk along the canal and pass the swans, who hadn’t yet moved on to wherever their summer homes are. I became a bit obsessed with the swans.

Up close, a swan is nothing like I’d expect. It’s a huge bird with a neck as thick as my arm. A swan is also not quite as lily-white as you’d expect – he has some black feathers and a little bit of accumulated grime. Most shockingly, a swan has the biggest feet – they look stolen off of a Navy SEAL diver.

I guess it’s the curved necks that make swan look so graceful as they languidly paddle along in the water. It sure can’t be the way they flap their wings and run along the surface of the water when they want to get somewhere quickly. When they do their water running thing, they look ridiculous.

The other thing no one ever tells you about swans is that they are nasty as hell. Picture your favorite ornery Canada goose and multiply that by one thousand. Now you’re getting close to the attitude of a swan on a good day. I once saw a swan chase off a medium-sized dog. Swans take crap from no one.

The rumor about swans is that they mate for life, which is a very admirable, loyal quality and it’s part of the reason why I find the canal swans so interesting. There’s one swan who patrolled an area not too far from my friends’ house. He was always alone and I don’t know if that’s because his partner is nesting or if it’s for sadder reasons.

A ways down from Mr. Alone was a flock of swans that were even more interesting because one of them was expressly not a swan. The flock had a goose in its midst – a white Mother-Goose type of goose. The goose was smaller than the swans and at first, I thought it might be an interloper. But the goose appeared solidly part of the social group.

The flock consists of five swans, plus the goose. This caused endless speculation for me. Was the goose partnered with one of the swans? Did Mr. Alone’s partner run off with Mr. Goose? Was this a bird version of an interracial marriage? Could they actually have goslings together? Were there other groups of swans who are less accepting of this arrangement? Was this the talk of the canal waterfowl world?

Every time I saw the goose, I just had to laugh. I don’t know if it was a he or a she. I don’t know if he/she believed that he/she was a goose or if he/she just really liked swans. Where is the line between pretending to be something and believing you are something? And when you cross the line into belief, do you actually become that which you want to be?

I wish I knew. Maybe the goose isn’t all that different than I am. After all, what am I doing over here if not trying to assimilate into a new culture. My accent marks me out as surely as the goose’s orange feet and bill. But maybe, if I believe I belong, I will.


At 19 September 2005 at 11:44, Blogger Lyss said...

When she and my dad lived in Michigan my stepmom 'adopted' a swan couple (only after they'd freaked out the dog- turns out she was sitting on eggs, no way for dog to know). They returned to our house for years until someon killed the male swan and soon after the female died.

At 24 September 2005 at 01:39, Blogger Career Guy said...

Just don't try scampering across the water, and no one will question your fitting in.

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