a glory of swans
Some of my favourite visitors arrived over the weekend. The growing patch of open water on the long-frozen lochan below the castle has tempted back a pair of mute swans, almost certainly the same pair that has stopped here in previous years. They arrived like a blessing on the morning of the wedding (see previous post). When we opened the shutters on Saturday morning, the grey, still, disc of ice which had lain unmoving since mid-December had transformed into moving, rippling water and on it – oh, glory! – two swans, renewing their life bond with a slow ballet of arching necks and mirrored gestures. I imagine that they are stopping en route to their summer breeding ground. But for the days or weeks of spring and autumn when they are here, on our own lochan, I cannot help but feel that their presence bestows on us a personal, humbling grace.
Since the swans arrived, I have had a musical accompaniment running through my mind: Rautavaara’s extraordinary Cantus Arcticus, the last movement of which is called ‘Swans migrating’ and features recordings of whooper swans in the Arctic Circle. You can hear this and the preceding movement here (the ‘Swans’ movement begins at the fourth minute). I love it for its haunting strangeness. Whooper swans are the national bird of Finland. It seems to me that this Finnish composer has done justice to their beauty and to their place in our imagination.
(A note on the title to this post: the collective noun for swans is traditionally a ‘herd’. How prosaic! Ever since a September week two years ago when thirty-seven migrating swans arrived like a flock of windblown angels on our cramped patch of water, I have thought that the only suitable term is a ‘glory’. So that is what I use.)