Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The flapper in winter

It was -10C this morning, and fresh snow on ice made an unbroken expanse of flat whiteness where the harbor usually is. The small ferry constantly crossing back and forth kept one thin line open, and the water birds congregated around that oasis; compared to sub-freezing air, freezing water is relatively warm. A few birds seemed not to have gotten the memo and instead made lumps in the snow at random points on the ice. One large lump the color of dirty ice seemed bird shaped, and I looked at it on and off seeing if it moved. It was the right size and about the right shape and color to be a juvenile swan, but it could also be a pit of trash or a chunk of refrozen slush someone slid out onto the ice.

My colleague, who also watches birds came into my office to ask if I had noticed it, and if so what I thought it was. He said there were footsteps in the fresh snow near it. He was right. Through my binoculars I could see swan prints leading to where it sat. And that lump on top might be a bit of neck leading to a head tucked entirely under a wing. But it must be dead I thought, why else would it sit so still for so long in such a windy spot on the ice?

I glanced at it occasionally though the morning, and it didn't move. Then some people walking their dog passed by, and the dog made like it was going to run out onto the ice to get the swan. A long gray neck snaked out from under the wing and looked straight back at the dog. The dog must have realized the ice was too thin to hold it. As soon as the dog was gone, the head disappeared under the wing again, and there it stayed.

In the early afternoon a fire department rescue truck pulled down the road to the harbor near the swan. Two guys, one holding binoculars, got out and looked at the swan for a while. I wondered if they thought it was a child. They drove away and came back with a third guy, who threw snowballs near the swan and yelled at it until it got up and walked a few steps. They left again, and the swan sat back in its usual spot, head under wing. The snow got heavier and started to pile up on the windward side of the swan, but it stuck to its spot, and still was there when the sun went down.

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