Monday, 16 April 2018

Old Swanny

It's that time of year again. If you drive the back road from Newton Abbot to Kingsteignton you can see them, just past the Teigngrace turn off encamped in the waterlogged field, there they are. There's dozens of them, (nearly) all in their pairs, all waddling around and swanning about like they own the place!

They come back every year, on the way to or from the next long established stop off, probably hundreds of years of habit or instinct even, bringing them back to the same spot at the same time with the same mate to do just that, mate and procreate. All that is except one guy, a 'cob' if you wanted his correct descriptive term. He's not with anyone, old Swanny, at least not any more.

He's memorable because of the damage to his beak, he must of caught it on barbed wire or a lost fishing hook. I'm speculating because I don't know but he's always had that slight tear, a rip curl if you like on his top beak. It's not too bad but it's obviously caused him some pain some time ago and it certainly adds character. It Probably  happened back before her, his 'pen' as a female is known. Old Swanny's  mrs, his partner, his love of his life and mating partner. She used to be here with him, they used to be a thing, they used to blend right in. They bond for life swans, which is great until a life ends.

They were here the first time I drove the road, I noticed them in amongst the other pairs. I didn't notice them in particular as they just blended in to the malaise. Not like you notice Swanny now, alone and somber in contrast to the cavorting couples. They were here the first time I was here walking, having gotten out of my car to see the scrap dealer on the corner. I was told to wait so I wandered off to have a smoke and investigate the swan phenomena that had always intrigued me.

What were they doing here? There's no pond, no lake, no real river.
Well there is water, and on closer inspection there's quite a lot of it. With a big rain the field floods, and it's England so the big rains come on a regular basis and the field is flooded almost as often as it isn't. But even during the rare dry years there's a ditch system in place dividing the fields, giving them drainage and there is a stream, albeit across the road in the opposite field. It's there though, trickling merrily and I guess it was here before the road was built so that boundary is irrelevant.

I'm halfway through my smoke when I notice them. Her so beautiful, him so adoring and such a handsome fella, even with his scar. They're mooching, playing, flapping wings and creating almost a magical dance between themselves, necks intertwining as they move as one. They don't notice me, they don't notice anything. The only thing they see is each other, around and around in their intimate bubble they go completely oblivious to my nosey observation. Oblivious too to the other mating pairs, to the road, to the noisy scrap yard, to the world. Pure love, right there, as pure as I've seen anyway.

I wander off back to check how much I can get for the battered old Vauxhall i'm scrapping and I'm not impressed with the offer but my mood is still good. Improved vastly in fact by a wonder of nature, by two swans demonstrating such a bond and standing out amongst a field of maybe 15 pairs.

That was the last time I saw them together, probably not the last time they came back as a couple but I never got out of my car again, never had a reason to stop and study, not until I saw him all alone that was.

It was probably 2 but maybe 3 years ago that I first clocked him. There in the happy field, there and anything but happy, there and alone. He was just sitting there, just waiting I guess, waiting for her. I must have driven past a dozen times in over a month or so before I finally pulled over to investigate.

The odds being what they were, roughly a 1 in 15 chance, I just couldn't believe it would be him, I mean I'd only paid attention to that one pair, only remembered Swanny by the rip on his beak but when I got close enough there it was, there he was. I was in the same boat at the time, feeling pretty much the same misery that he was exuding. We were brothers that day, or souls connected by the loss of a loved one. His gone forever and mine just gone. But that didn't lessen my feelings of a connection made.

Where is she Swanny? Where is she mate? I asked him, between long deep drags on my roll up and with a tear rolling down my cheek. He didn't answer, didn't need to. She was gone and she wasn't coming back.

I drove past today and he's there now. He's there every year. He strolls about in a crestfallen manner, looking for a fight, shunning company. If anything or any happy couple pluck up the nerve to go near him they're sent packing. He's the epitome of a grumpy old man, but in swan form. I feel his pain, I really do, and I could relate to him on so many levels a few years back. But that's the thing, 'could'. That's what occurred to me today when I drove past again and saw him, again; lonely, desolate and miserable. He can't move on, that was his mate for life and that was his life so there's no new, no replacement, no recovery. Just the same shit life, missing her and having it rubbed in his face by all the happy lifelong couples he's surrounding himself with.

That's why I felt lucky today, I even had a smile at his expense, sorry Swanny. We can recover, as humans we can move on. It's not easy and it hurts like hell but we can and we do, it's a human necessity. Things go wrong, people leave, people split and people die. He's helped me with that old Swanny, helped me and hopefully his example will help others as well because sometimes they just aren't coming back.

The next time you drive that way keep an eye out for him, you can't miss him as he'll be the only one all by himself so spare him a thought but be thankful we're not swans. Be thankful we have choices and the ability to recover and move on from loss.

Stupid swan...