As well as this lovely photograph of trumpeter swans on ice, we thought we should share a story about swans in China and about other swan species in the USA, too. Carl Kurtz, the Iowa farmer and photographer whose work is seen on the cover of the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability (and inside it, too), writes, “Trumpeter Swans are our largest waterfowl with a wingspan of more than 6 feet and a weight of up to 28 pounds. These birds are a wildlife management success story as a rough count in the mid-1930s was under 100 birds, while the number today nationwide is near or over 40,000. To see trumpeter swans on flight, on the ice or in a snow-covered field is always a special experience.”
There is indeed something special about swans. One of the great pleasures of my frequent trips to New York City is seeing the dozens of swans on a stretch of open water near Purdys, New York. And in the novel Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong (translated by Howard Goldblatt), there is a chapter in which the story might have been set on the American prairie in times past. The hero of the novel, Yang, is part of a group sent to kill wolves. They discover a remote lake filled with swans and surrounded by hillsides of white peonies. Both the birds and the flowering plants are seen as resources to be harvested and sold, but Yang protests,
Swans . . . precious, rare creatures . . . can’t kill them! Please, I beg you. I’ve loved Swan Lake since I was a kid. During the three difficult years I cut school one day and went hungry so I could stand in line late at night just to buy a ticket to watch a performanceby a joint troupe of young Soviet and Chinese dancers. It’s truly beautiful. Educated people and great men everywhere love swans, so how could we come to a true swan lake just to kill and eat them? If you need to kill something, kill me.”
Bao was shocked that anyone could be that ungrateful. He glared at Yang, his enthusiasm dampened. “Swan Lake—what the hell is that all about? Capitalist hogwash. You’re a high school graduate, and you think that makes you better than me? We can’t stage The Red Detachment of Women till we drive Swan Lake off the stage.
Read the whole passage at Google Books. And buy a copy of the book – a wonderful holiday read!
More information about trumpeter swans. In researching them, I discovered that the swans Purdys that I enjoy so much are mute swans, a European species: “Mute swans are a non-native, invasive species first brought to this country from Europe in the late 1800s for their aesthetic value. Initially introduced in New York’s lower Hudson Valley and Long Island, mute swans were kept by breeders as domestics on the ponds of private estates. The release of domestic swans into the wild on Long Island and the lower Hudson Valley has led to well established populations in those areas. The largest known releases occurred from 1910-1912 and consisted of about 500 birds.” More here. Many plants and animals we love – as well as those we loathe – are not native species. In this case, I’m quite happy to overlook their European origins because they add something magical to this part of the world. We’ll have lots more about native/invasive species and ecosystems in the next volumes of the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability.