Ever Heard a Swan Fly?

Ron Karpinski  1996


Once or twice per year, my wife's office holds a meeting at some exotic locale in Europe.  This past May, they met in Constance, Germany.  In a rare display of family spirit, spouses were also invited.

We stayed at the Park Hotel, a first class resort on the shores of Lake Constance.  Our room was elegant and the view quite nice.  Of afternoons, suave young waiters in white coats served coffee and cakes on a wide terrace out back where a western exposure caught the final rays of the setting sun.  Beyond the terrace, manicured gardens led to a wide promenade hugging the water's edge.

Each morning, while my wife attended meetings, I strolled with the other housewives, as they pushed their baby buggies up and down the promenade.  Mostly, we discussed the finer points of potty training.  My how the time flew!

As we walked, I took to counting swans in the water.  More than twenty swam in our area alone.  Most of them hovered close to shore where tourists tossed bread crumbs their way.  The birds had grown fat on the free meals.

The lovely swan is among Nature's more graceful creatures.  Cutting lithely through the flow, its smooth sleek lines and soft supple curves hardly leave a wake, the very picture of poise.  Slick white feathers glisten in the sunlight.  A long lissome neck sweeps above the heads of lesser fowl.

That having been said, have you ever heard a swan fly?  They make one heck of a racket, on those rare occasions when they do give it a try.  That is true, at least, in the case of the well-fed Lake Constance breed.

On day two, I walked alone along the shore.  Suddenly, a loud "clap, clap, clap" came from out of nowhere, and everywhere, at the same time.  It sounded like a team of Clydesdale horses pulling a beer wagon down a cobblestone street.

I spun around, but the lane behind me stood empty.  Then I slowly turned to my left, in the direction of the lake.  Out on the water, some thirty yards from shore, two rather hefty swans had reached the final stage for takeoff.

Flapping huge wings with all their might, they sprinted atop the water, straining to lift into the air.  Huge webbed feet spun like paddle wheels, slapping hard against the surface.  After fifty yards of supreme effort, the two took flight.

They rose twelve feet into the stratosphere, leveled off, then cruised in a wide arc for two hundred yards and swooped back in for a landing.  Feet flailing, they fell the final few inches, plopping back in the lake with a huge splash.

Once again the most graceful birds afloat, they glided into shore . . . and more bread crumbs.


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