A Mute Swan Living on the Edge3 minute read

A Mute Swan

A mute swan stars in this piece of nature writing, which is based on the initial stages of a walk from Grasmere to Rydal in the Lake District National Park.

A Mute Swan Living on the Edge

In a lakeside field I spot a goose, a greylag goose preening its feathers, feathers that are as grey as the sky on this overcast day. The bird buries its carrot-coloured beak into the softness of its back, its serpentine neck contorting to an incredible degree in order to accommodate the act.

The creature is in the company of a dozen Canada geese, each one the gamut of greys, from the darkest black to the white of a classic cumulus cloud; together they graze harmoniously on short, green grass.

The air is silent, Grasmere’s water almost still, autumnal reflections gently blurred across its placidness.

It is impossible to miss the imposing size of a nearby mute swan; it is living life on the edge between two disparate worlds, that which is underwater and that which is above. Despite appearing big and strong, a striking air of stylishness emanates from this being, and the bird’s feathery form serves as a reminder of potential fragility, and its colour conveys purity, virtuousness and innocence.

I watch the captivating mixture of strength and weakness drift angelically across the crystalline liquid with which it is intimately linked, the snow-white wonder and its accompanying mirror image leaving a silver slipstream trailing soothingly behind them.

My visual focus hones in on the handful of facial features that embellish this beau idéal of avian elegance. An intensely-orange beak contrasts stunningly with its black tip, nostrils and basal knob, as well as the black equilateral triangle that overspreads the lore between beak and eye.

The lake on which this beaut resides is relatively small, roughly triangular, has an island at its centre teeming with trees, and is encircled by fells brimming with orange bracken. Lower down on the fells, and on the lakeshore in places, are more trees, mainly of the deciduous kind.

Three or four black-headed gulls are on the wing, but for a remnant smudge their heads now white for winter. They circuit the perimeter of the lake, every now and then performing a sharp shift in direction to pluck an insect from the sky. Two more are stood on the shore, raucous shrieks gushing from their wide-open, cinnabar beaks, their bodies rigid, throat feathers ruffled, both engaged in bowing of their bodies as part of a boisterous behavioural display towards one another.

I turn my attention back to the swan who now, similar to the goose earlier, grooms its feathers as if with gusto, the actions of its neck reminiscent of a butterfly’s flexible proboscis poking in and out of nectar-flooded florets.

Once the feathers have been tended to, the swan turns to feeding, its sinuous neck slipping slowly beneath the water as if sliding through a lubricated hole, a wormhole connecting aquatic and aerial realities. Suddenly, the whole bird upends so that its tail touches the sky, the webbing of its grey feet steadying its buoyant body while it tucks into vegetation native to the underwater world.

As the distance between myself and the swan increases, I decide to move on, excited to see what else is going on.

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