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a glory of swans

March 16, 2010

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.)

9 Comments leave one →
  1. March 17, 2010 9:35 pm

    Sounds lovely!
    The ice is still on the sea here!!! Too sad, because its cooling down everything else. No swans yet, either! Hope yours are nice still!

  2. March 19, 2010 2:02 pm

    This is interesting – I also have been known to say a “glory” of swans (and wasn’t even sure what the correct term was). I don’t know where I got that from, but it does fit.
    We have many trumpeter and mute swan that overwinter on Lake Ontario and about 150 of the 200 or so just left this week. I miss them already.

    …and sadly, your links aren’t working, I was looking forward to hearing that Cantus Arcticus.
    in the meantime, I’m off to read your past postings.

  3. March 19, 2010 2:33 pm

    I’m so glad that something as wondrous as swans led you to my blog. Thanks for visiting! I’m in such awe that you live in a Scottish castle. Scotland is one of the single most beautiful places I’ve ever visited (and fabulous for so many other reasons too), but living there as well as in a castle must be really amazing. Off to have a look around now.

  4. dancingbeastie permalink
    March 19, 2010 3:18 pm

    Well, I feel honoured to have visitors from Sweden, Canada and Finland to my miniscule blog. Thank you for visiting: your presence and your comments are very much appreciated!

    Violet Sky, I’m so sorry that the links weren’t working. I have just tried them and they seem fine now, so do please try again. The Rautavaara is like nothing I’ve ever heard before.

    Michele, it’s a pleasure to have you here. We are indeed very fortunate to live where we do. This blog is partly about trying to explain something of the reality behind the romantic ideal of a Scottish castle: I hope I can do that without spoiling the dream! For me, the frozen far north holds a haunting appeal, so it is a privilege to read about your life in Finland.

    Wishing each of you a good weekend.

  5. March 21, 2010 5:05 pm

    A glory of swans sounds so appropriate and much better than the common term “herd”! I can’t believe the lochans have had ICE on them till now. You are in a MUCH colder climate than we are in Orkney! We benefit from the Gulf Stream and generally have mild winters (apart from this year). It must have been wonderful watching the swans ballet. Must go and listen to the music now…..


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