Friday, February 24, 2012

2 Swans A-Flying

As I walked past the back pond in our neighborhood park last Sunday two white swans decided to take flight.
The small body of water is about 100 yards in length and it took about 2/3 of that distance for these largest members of the duck family to reach enough speed and develop sufficient lift to actually become airborne. They began the process by running across the water as rapidly as they could with their wings flapping. But I missed that part. The pounding of their long pinions against the stagnant air alerted me to the event and when I looked over at the pair they were already several inches airborne and flapping like crazy (albeit gracefully) to gain altitude. Ultimately the upward force generated by their fluttering propelled them up and over the small dam at pond’s end and up and out of the recreational area. And the distinct “pop” of each downward stroke became more of a continuous hum.

They were I presume the same male and female residents that (with their offspring) have resided in our neck of the woods this past spring, summer and autumn – and possibly for the previous several years. I had believed that this species mated for life but several swan-centric websites, including Wikipedia, report that while they “form socially monogamous pair bonds that last for many years, and in some cases these can last for life. Modern genetic techniques are starting to reveal that 'divorces' are more common than previously thought, as is mating with other swans outside of the social pairing, without breaking the social pair bond.” I assume if any of the latter behavior was going on that the adulterous party would have the decency to not misbehave in its own bed-pond – but who knows how far a swan can stretch its “social pair bond” without fracturing it.

In any event, this taking-to-flight was something that I had never before seen in person. Perhaps it was some form of spiritual vision. (It was, after all, the Sabbath.) Or maybe I was just hallucinating because I was hungry.

I do have to say that they did look quite “meaty” as they floated up and out of sight. Which is not the way that I always saw them. Mars and I have joked in the past about dining on these and the Canada Geese that sometimes share the upper pond with the Swans. (On this occasion thirty or so of these suburban pests were resting silently on the banks of the lower pond, just beyond the end of the runway. Probably jaded by the (at least) daily takeoffs of the large white avians not one of them removed its white-patched black head from under its brownish gray wing – just another day at the airport.)

I am a fan of roast duck and duck confit. Mars is not – nor is she a devotee of any dark meat. We both assumed that Swans and the Canada Geese, while a member of the same family as the smaller, tasty, web-footed water birds, would have relatively little meat on the bone – particularly for the work involved.
There’s an exchange in the movie “Duck Soup” between Groucho and Chico Marx that goes like this: [Chico speaks with an Italian fruit seller’s accent.]
G: Here is a little peninsula, and here is a viaduct leading over to the mainland.
C: Why a duck?
G: I’m all right. How are you? I say here is a little peninsula, and here’s a viaduct …
C: All-a right. Why a duck? Why a duck? Why-a-no-chicken?
G: I don’t know why-a-no-chicken. I’m a stranger here myself.

So I wonder “Why-a-no-swan?”

It’s time to Google.

“Swan meat has been regarded as a luxury food in England since at least the reign of Elizabeth I. A recipe for baked swan survives from that time. ‘To bake a Swan Scald it and take out the bones, and parboil it, then season it very well with Pepper, Salt and Ginger, then lard it, and put it in a deep Coffin of Rye Paste with store of Butter, close it and bake it very well, and when it is baked, fill up the Vent-hole with melted Butter, and so keep it; serve it in as you do the Beef-Pie.’” (Wikipedia)

And, according to the posting “The Smart Shopper’s Guide to Swan Meat” on (a piece worth sharing in its entirety):

“It’s gratifying to know, in these troubled times when so many are struggling financially, that you can purchase swan meat for just $50.00 a pound. That’s right, there are deals to be had and ways to satisfy the well-known American craving for swan at bargain-basement prices. The kicker is, you’ve got to purchase the entire bird. But at rates this low, why would you not.

“Presumably, when you order a bird from 1-800-STEAKS.COM, you’re getting a black swan as shown in the web page photo. The page doesn’t actually specify that it’s a black swan, nor does it tell you how much meat you’re getting for your money, because, heck, why not make things more fun by making the customer guess, right? At the time of this writing, I defy you to search the page content and find any details beyond the fact that you’re getting swan for $999.00–a steal at $500 off the regular price of $1,499.00.

“Since it really is kind of important to know where in the size spectrum between a chicken and a sperm whale the swan in question lies, it’s off to Wikipedia we go, you and I, where we learn that a mature black swan weighs anywhere between 8 and 20 pounds. Very good, now we’re getting somewhere. But in what form will our swan be delivered to us? After all, it’s swan MEAT that we’re after, and that is what the site advertises. So should we expect it to come pre-packaged, or frozen whole with the feathers still on it, or what?

“Finding no immediate information, off we go again to do more research, this time to the Exotic Meat Market, which offers competitive prices on black, mute, and black neck swans, and is pleased to answer some of our pressing questions.

“Ah! The swans are live. We will not be receiving our 8 to 20 pounds of swan meat in nicely prepared parcels. No, our swan meat will be arriving in the freshest of all possible conditions, honking and hissing and flapping its wings and ready to vigorously assert its personal views on being converted into table fare. So we shall have our work cut out for us, but the Exotic Meat Market sweetens the deal with prices that make us want to shout for joy, they are so ridiculously low.

“Here, for instance, is the pricing information for a single live, male black swan:
Regular price: $1,299.00
Sale price: $599.00
Black Swan – Live Male blswlima [Add to cart]

“I’m not sure what “blswlima” means. Maybe the swan comes with Lima beans. Regardless, you can see right away that here is a platinum deal if ever there was one, with the Exotic Meat Market undercutting 1-800-STEAKS.COM by $200 on their regular price and $400 on the sale price. I know, I know–it makes you want to rub your eyes in disbelief. Disbelief is a common reaction to prices like these. Nevertheless, it’s true: you can purchase live, aggressively fresh swan meat–between 8 and 20 pounds, we’re still not entirely clear on that–for a low, low, not-quite-six-hundred bucks.

“And that’s not all. Mute swan, a non-native species which is rapidly becoming a weed bird in United States lakes and rivers, also sells for just $599.99. And black neck swan, regularly $2,499.99, is currently on sale for a paltry $1,999.99. That’s a $500 SAVINGS! (Though it should be mentioned that the black neck swan doesn’t come with Lima beans.)”

“” in its sales page for swan meat tells us that it was a status symbol to eat swan “until superseded by turkey early last century.” Go figure.

But, even if the flesh of a Swan is not in fact stringy, greasy and skimpy, it still seems blasphemous to eat it – with good reason. Swans have been religious symbols even longer than they have been status symbols – and not just Leda.

“In early Celtic mythology, the equivalent to the Cretan Triple Goddess was called Brigit. The swan was sacred to Brigit. On the arrival of Christianity (Celtic Christianity developing and remaining somewhat apart from that of Rome for many centuries), the sometime Goddess Brigit reappeared as Saint Brigit or Saint Brigidine. Later she came to be identified by many with the Virgin Mary, the swan being part of the baggage.
“The swan has also been a Christian symbol of dignified retirement from worldly things, perhaps by association with the dignity attributed to the Virgin Mary.

“Christianity at that time was profoundly Mariolatrous, none more so than the Bavarian church - and it still is. This Mariolatry was one of the aspects of Christianity that so offended the patriarchal Arabs at the time of Mahomet, and why he was so insistent that there was no god but Allah – rather than the de facto Holy Trinity of Father, Mother and Son.

“The grail itself was a royal, sacred, essentially female symbol associated with fertility. The swan was a royal, sacred, originally female symbol associated with the Mother, the ultimate manifestation of fertility, and her later surrogates.” (

Wow – Mariolatrous (“an excessive and proscribed veneration of the Virgin Mary.”) Now that is a definite “ten dollar word”– one that I never would have found out about (along with the price of swan meat) if I hadn’t stumbled upon the two swans taking off.

If you really want to learn about life you have to get up from your computer, go out into in natural world, and observe – then run right back home and Google your little buns off.

Running swan photo from

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