There is an emanation from the heart

which cannot be described,

but is immediately felt and puts

the stranger at his ease.

~Washington Irving

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough...

.........and more.

It turns denial into acceptance,
chaos to order, confusion to clarity.

It can turn a meal into a feast,

a house into a home,

a stranger into a friend.

~Melody Beattie

Don't be satisfied with stories,

how things have gone with others.

Unfold your own myth.

May my life be like a great

hospitable tree, and may

weary wanderers find in

me a rest.

~John Henry Jowett

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Real Fairy Tale Swans

It doesn't matter if you're born
in a duck yard, so long as you
are hatched from a swan's egg!
~Hans Christian Andersen, 
The Ugly Duckling

Just about a year ago when Stuart, Jack and I were walking alongside the pond in the University Parks, all of a sudden, calmly swimming toward us along the shore, was a swan with her four cygnets. It was later in the evening and not many people were about, so mama swan must have felt confident showing them around their new world. They stayed very close to her, tucked into her side or hugging the pond's edge. We felt in awe seeing them, but also very humbled--neither Stuart or I had ever seen recently-hatched cygnets so close-up. We quickly put Jack on his lead to keep him away from the water's edge and I tiptoed as close to them as I safely could to take one quick photo before we backed away and watched from the pathway.

All the uglinesses of the
world can best be forgotten
in the beauty of nature!
~Mehmet Murat ildan

We didn't see the cygnets often after that first time, since mama swan kept them close to the reeds and away from the open water, but when we did, the sight of them was simply stunning, even as they grew. They were a pearly, velvety grey, with downy-soft feathers. They looked very delicate and fragile so it's no wonder they stay hidden in the early weeks. Each time we saw them we prayed we would still count four of them, but soon we were counting three cygnets, and then by autumn only two. It was heart-breaking to think she'd lost half of her babies, but heartening to see both the mama and papa swan never letting the two remaining cygnets out of their sight; always flanking them as they circled the pond, looking for food. 

Autumn came, and the leaves in the 
forest turned to orange and gold. 
Then, as winter approached, 
the wind caught them as they fell.
~Hans Christian Andersen, 
The Ugly Duckling

And then when winter began there
was just one young swan prince left,
still with his pearly-grey, swans-down,
still flanked by mama and papa, now
even more vigilant and attentive.

With his feathers he will cover you,
under his wings you will find safety.
His truth is your shield and armour.
~Psalm 91:4

They kept young swan prince in the
pond until early winter and then they
guided him the few paces across the
path and over into the Cherwell River,
out into the wider world.

Our cygnet, well into his teenhood
and perhaps looking for a little
independence. (below)

As long as paws and feathers
are at least a few feet apart,
peace reigns.

All winter long the cygnet was trained
in swanly ways. If a person or a
dog approached the three of them,
mama & papa would nudge him
toward the shore and make him react
to the possible threat. It looked much
like parenting a teenager--they poked,
and pushed and prodded week after
week, day after day, until one day he
was swimming on his own.

Before we knew it, the young swan prince
was a cygnet no more and was covered in his
regal white feathers. He went back and forth
between the pond and the river, honing his
survival skills while making the landscape
more beautiful.

His own image; no longer a dark, 
gray bird, ugly and disagreeable
to look at, but a graceful and
beautiful swan.......
~Hans Christian Andersen, 
The Ugly Duckling

He now felt glad at having suffered
sorrow and trouble, because it enabled 
him to enjoy so much better all the
pleasure and happiness around him.....
~Hans Christian Andersen,
The Ugly Duckling

And then he was gone, and we
were back to just mama & papa
swan in the pond.

Now that they weren't so intent
on raising their cygnet, they were
far more sociable, so we were able
to get to know them better. Slowly
they even became used to Jack flitting
back and forth on the pond's edge.
Our arms start from the back
because they were once wings.
~Martha Graham

The minute they see us at the pond now,
one of the swans will swim over for their 
treats. Jack usually sits in the grass
watching and everyone is calm and
friendly--again, as long as there's a bit
of distance between paws and feathers.

When I'm a little slow getting the treats
out, I'll sometimes get a very gentle
nibble on my wellie to speed things up.

If your heart is straight with
God, then every creature will
be to you a mirror of life and
a book of holy doctrine.
~Thomas à Kempis

Jack, wondering when it's his turn.
Because of their grace & perfect whiter
than white feathers, swans have many deeper
meanings throughout different cultures and
beliefs. Not surprisingly, because of the
purity of their white colour, they symbolise
'light' in parts of the world.

In dream symbolism they mean sensitivity,
transformation, or a person's soul or inner
being, especially in the Celtic tradition.

As a water bird, swans are also tied to
emotions and are symbols to help you
connect with your true self, or inner
transformations that help you accept
your outer self, as told in fairy tale
form in Hans Christian Anderson's
The Ugly Duckling.

And then something amazing happened-
at least to me it was........

"All the beings of the world pray,"
said my Grandad ... 
 "Each living thing gives its
life to the beauty of all life, 
 and that gift is its prayer." 
~Douglas Wood, 
Grandad's Prayers of the Earth

......Jack and I just happened to be
walking along the pond one afternoon
while the pair of swans were performing
their swan dance, their mating ritual.
It felt exactly like watching a beautiful
ballet, and since Swan Lake is my
favourite ballet, I was mesmerised.
What makes it even more inspiring to
watch is that swans mate for life.

Love consists of this: 
two solitudes that meet, 
protect and greet each other.
~Rainer Maria Rilke

It is only with the heart that one can 
see clearly, for the most essential 
things are invisible to the eye.
~Hans Christian Andersen, 
The Ugly Duckling

The two swam in perfect unison,
sometimes entwined in one another,
sometimes mirror images of each
other. They repeated patterns of 
each taking turns to dip their bills
into the water and then raise it high,
they circled one another, and then
encircled one another with their 
swan necks forming a heart.
It was heart-achingly beautiful
and otherworldly, like something
from a fairy tale that turns out
to be real.

Swans mate over a period of 2-3 weeks
 and lay their eggs in the nest they've
preparedThen when the final egg
is laid, the incubation begins which
takes about six weeks.

Once the swans had finished their
mating and laying eggs, the nest
deep in the rushes became their
home for the next 6 weeks. A sign
and fencing on the path near the
rushes keeps people and animals from
disturbing the swan and her eggs.

If the sun is out and it's warm
enough, she'll leave her nest to
feed around the rushes, letting 
the sun take over for her for
a little while.

Day after day she sits in a labour of 
love, hatching her cygnets, and
all the while the other swan patrols
around the rushes, especially at first.

So every day on our walk by the pond
we check on the progress and wait
for the downy grey-fluffed cygnets
to appear; wondering how many
there will be, how many will survive,
while hoping that last year's young
swan prince is alive and well some-
where on the river nearby, with 
his own swan princess, repeating
the same ballet of nature and love.

Lord of the far horizons, 
Give us the eyes to see: 
Over the verge of the sundown, 
The beauty that is to be.
~B. Carman

The pond at the University Parks at sunset.
Look closely at the background to the right,
 and you can see the rushes where the nest is.
The blue right behind it is the fencing to keep
people from getting too close and disturbing
the nest.

Update ~ May 18th
Jack and I took a long walk this morning
after being housebound for 32 hours by
torrential (much-needed) rain. It felt so
good to be out and the world in the
University Parks was so washed clean
and green, that a one hour walk turned
into two. We checked in on the cygnets,
and there she still sat, with patient grace.

Papa swan was still patrolling the perimeter
like a pro, and keeping the larger birds away,
keeping the nest safe.

Ever graceful on his patrol around the pond.

If there is magic on the planet, 
it is contained in the water.
~Loren Eisley

When you look at that nature world it becomes an icon, it becomes a holy picture that speaks of the origins of the world. Almost every mythology sees the origins of life coming out of water. And, curiously, that's true. It's amusing that the origin of life out of water is in myths and then again, finally, in science, we find the same thing. It's exactly so.  ~Joseph Campbell, 
The Hero's Journey, p. 10

There is a twofold meaning in every
creature, a literal and a mystical, and
the one is but the ground of the other.
~John Smith

Stay tuned.............


  1. Beautifully told, Carrie! It is a marvelous thing to be able to walk with you and Stuart and Jack and to have this wondrous view of Oxford's swan family. So thankful you are the biographer for Oxford life ~ we are privileged to see through your eyes and pen and heart. Thank you!

    1. Thank you and always a pleasure Christie, always. xxxooo

  2. Carrie, this is so beautiful! Thank you for sharing with us the gorgeous photos and words.

    1. Thank you Pam--and you take care of that foot of yours! Healing prayers and wishes for you. xxxooo

  3. How lucky I am to be able to read such beauty and have been in your part of the world! Love the photos of graceful swans and your verses that you find to make this blog a thing of beauty, inside and out. Thank you Carrie.

    1. Thank you Marianne, and I'm so glad you've been here to see it all first-hand. Take care xxxooo