Skagit swans at sunrise

Skagit swans at sunrise

“Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air —
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A Shrill dark music — like the rain pelting the trees — like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds —
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black  leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, I your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed you life?”
— Mary Oliver, Swan: Poems and Prose Poems

I went to the Skagit Valley to see snow geese, but they were not in their usual places.  Instead, I saw swans — trumpeter swans, I think, although both trumpeters and tundra swans overwinter here.  Mary Oliver’s images — white crosses in the sky, black feet like dark leaves — capture the swans’ presence so perfectly.

Swans like white crosses

Swans like white crosses

Those relatively large black feet look like rudders!

Those relatively large black feet look like rudders!

Sketchbook, line drawings of Skagit swans

Sketchbook, line drawings of Skagit swans

 

 

 

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Snow-capped Mount Baker dominates this Skagit Valley view

Winter offers its own pleasures in the rural Skagit Valley, a one-hour drive north of Seattle.  We were on the lookout for trumpeter swans and snow geese on our most recent trip.  We saw the birds, but they had settled to feed some distance from the road.  It’s always awesome to see and hear the great flocks in flight, even if they were too far away for good photos.

Trumpeter swans in flight

Trumpeter swan

Skagit Valley in February

Vagabond Swans

January 27, 2010

Trumpeter swan in flight

Pair of trumpeter swans

Trumpeter swans overhead

“The very idea of a bird is a symbol and a suggestion to the poet. A bird seems to be at the top of the scale, so vehement and intense his life. . . . The beautiful vagabonds, endowed with every grace, masters of all climes, and knowing no bounds—how many human aspirations are realised in their free, holiday-lives—and how many suggestions to the poet in their flight and song!”
     — John Burroughs, Birds and Poets

Several thousand trumpeter swans winter in the Skagit Valley.  While we were up north, my husband and I drove to the Johnson/Debay Swan Reserve in Mount Vernon to look for the swans.  They weren’t nearly as numerous as the snow geese, but they were still an amazing sight.

Two swans coming in for a landing

 

 

 

Trumpeter swans at their winter feeding grounds in Mount Vernon

Trio of trumpeter swans in Mount Vernon