Swan Song in East Hampton?

One of the East Hampton swans, Photo: Dan Rattiner
One of the East Hampton swans, Photo: Dan Rattiner

I pass alongside Town Pond in East Hampton two or three times almost every day. Groups of mallards come and go. Occasionally there is a stick-legged ibis standing a foot or two from shore, gazing blankly off into the distance. Overseeing all are two great white swans, present no matter what the occasion, paddling majestically around in the water or plumping on the grass alongside it. They are the royalty of Town Pond. And if you stop to bother them, one will invariably walk menacingly toward you until you retreat to your car, and then peck at your tires until you drive off.

In the third week of October we had a violent storm. It was one of several we had that month. Thundering rain, fierce winds and high tides crippled the area. And, as it happened, the morning after it was over I drove down James Lane and didn’t see the swans in the pond. And then I did see them. They were laying there together, side by side, two big white lumps amidst the debris of leaves and branches that had come down. They looked dead. They were dead.

I slowed. I know dead. You see dead deer by the side of the road, not moving, not breathing, caught in some last living position but now splayed out. Here, the King and Queen were dead.

I felt so sad for these two. Swans mate for life, and these two were always together wherever they went, watching each other, doting over each other. They’d been together for years here. And now they were gone. I drove on. I have to report this to the Mayor’s office is what I thought.

At the beach, staring out at the wild ocean that sometimes accompanies the end of a vicious storm, a scene in the movie Titanic came to mind. The scene was an elegant first-class stateroom. As the seawater chops angrily around on the floor, slowly rising higher and higher, a wealthy elderly couple is seen lying on the bed, fully dressed in formal clothes, on their sides arranged in the spooning position one up against the other, still alive and holding each other, waiting together for the end that would soon come.

That was sad, too.

Leaving the beach, I drove back down to James Lane to have a further look. I had been away all of 20 minutes and, as expected, there they were, still dead, in the exact same spot they had been before. I had picked up my telephone and was about to call the Mayor’s office when something new happened. One of the two swans, still lying there, raised up its head atop its long white neck, swiveled, and stared at me.

It stared at me for quite some time. So he was alive!!! As for the other, it showed no movement, just the same carcass I had seen before.

My first thought was that this swan, surely the male is what first came to mind, was asking for a little privacy now as he mourned this sad white lump that had once been his mate. I expected that, if I did not move on, he would soon get up and come toward me, really, really angry at this intrusion. Quickly I moved to put the car into gear, but as I did, he lowered his head back down. No. This was a sorrowful moment. His mourning was more important than little old me. He wouldn’t even bother with me.

Confused, I decided not to make the call. But I also wouldn’t leave. I remained there, my engine on, my car in park, for the next five minutes. Nothing further happened. And so, I went home.

A third trip down along the pond later in the day found these two swans paddling happily together in the middle of the pond. They were ignoring, for the moment anyway, an ibis who had struck a pose down at the other end. The drama was over.

How long do swans live anyway? I googled it. On average, 26.8 years. Good.

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