feature 308 

SongSwan The Trumpeters of Dentville The Squamish Estuary is the scene for one of Nature’s aural-visual dramas; the trumpeter swan leading the cast of characters. By J. Michael Yates I have come to live At a place of three-minded water, Of the nearby river, Of the circular sea, Of the curved and arabesquing slough. The slough keeps memory of river Of uplands, of blinding light upon the glaciers Of turquoise, darkening crevasses Which wedge the faller down to death And wait beneath fragile bridges of snow. Of these high, forever snows, The river knows. The slough knows what the river knows. And more: The slow content of its circles receives from the sea And adds that knowledge to the river it used to be. River and Sound are places where other livers surround. The great swan which bugles down from the Arctic Chooses neither River nor Sound but slough To winter in its proximal distance. The slough is not emerald like the river. Nor slate blue like the sea. Its whiskey-coloured waters go peat With saline ferment and Green marsh grass turned long and brown. The slough differs from other waters As the swan differs from other animals which fly. The swan raises its wings over the slough As Mount Tantalus opens Over the corridor below. When the thing that lives takes wing Let it do so like a white swan Silhouetted against dark mountains Rising and trumpeting like Gabriel As it goes. As its travelling shadow goes Over Castle Rock which can be Seen from below Only against mist Or a fresh dusting of snow. The town disappearing Behind out of sight, out of hearing It is not a bad thing To have been close to a town for a time Then gone. Cutlines: If it is windless on a cold and clear Dentville night, I can almost see their astonishing sound. Synaesthesia at the most unexpected time goes to the farthest border of the believable. You must call someone. "Come, Listen with me, listen with me, listen to this. Is this auditory hallucinosis or real?... Listen... confirm... verify... can we be here and be audience to this?" I have been keeping myself broke for many years feeding the birds — but not the trumpeters. They keep much distance between themselves and bipeds. Well-documented in his biography, Ralph Edwards resuscitated a species near dead. My most reliable source, Lenny "Lefty" Goldsmith, who first started coming to the Squamish Estuary in 1947, tells me there was no trace of these graceful animals until about 1972. When mist or snow like a cyclorama frames Castle Rock and the other usually invisible outcroppings on the west side of the river and gives these to your eyes, it feels like a reward for having taken the time to stop by. The trumpeters are part of this. And they look as though made of the same confectioner’s sugar that covers the side of Mount Sedgewick. Soon it becomes impossible to imagine the river and the slough without them. Which can be more extraordinary: the sound and sight of swans flying, or the sense of mirage when they fly out of sight? You know then and there that your sense of life has changed. Also part of this metabolic landscape is the coyote, the trickster who is elsewhere; the raven, Creator of the World, some say. Through the cold, clear winter dark, from my front step I hear two conversations: First: Yapyapyapyaroo. Then: The sound of Louie Armstrong’s muted trumpet. "What is that?" someone close to my shoulder asks. "What do you think?" "The swans." "What else?" "Coyote?" "In the plural." Yap Yap...aroooooooo (the decaying taper of the note perhaps longer than one of the best of the Brackendale bells). "What do you suppose they are saying?" "I think the coyote is saying, ‘Hey, hey, hey, come out and play. I have something to tell you.’ And the swans are saying ‘Come on in; let’s see if you can swim. We can hear you from here just splendidly.’" I have been watching for the coyote or coyotes for almost 10 years right here, and listening. I see them gliding along the ridge of the training dike or elsewhere in the slough, floating low like something without a contract with gravity. A tidal current in the slough, shouldering in, and the swans breasting the water just enough gives the illusion of stasis, still-life, that one can, after all, step into the same river twice. The swan has sailed through our religion, folklore, fairytales and art as archetype and symbol since the beginning of us, so far as we know. But sometimes, in the silence of the early morning light breaking across Dentville slough, for a moment, the ineffable swans are what they are and that only. Nothing more. The heron appears out of the rising morning mist with its feathery beard almost as inanimate as the stump on which it stands. Like the swans and the coyote and the river and the slough, it gazes deep into time-bound intuition. It knows me as I would know myself, if I could know myself — or anything. Anyone who would like to see the swans can contact the Squamish Estuary Conservation Society at 898-3747.


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