Swan Song

September started as always around here with cake and it will end, all being well, with dragon bread. Today was the first day of school, and then after dinner, the bigger kids will be heading off to church for their first choir practise, too. It is a month for resuming routines.

I’m not quite ready to let go of summer yet, but right now it feels more like summer has let go of us. I picture it upping anchor and drifting away like an unattended hot-air balloon, brightly lit and heading south, leaving me and Plum with noses pressed against the window pane on a rainy afternoon as the room around us slowly filling up with September’s routines.

I recently read a description of someone who finds joy in impermanence. Bold words and perhaps a worthy goal. I’m not there yet.

Part of my autumnal reluctance stems from our little Plum’s own counting down of days. This coming Friday, he will start at nursery and he knows (and tells me) that means four waiting days. He is so very, very excited. I’d hoped that these waiting days would be full of sunshine and we could just live at the park. A few more picnics and ball games before he joined the other kids in the playground. Sadly, the weather had other thoughts and we’ve spent today inside.

Things change and you can’t make plans. So what can you do? Hold on. Let go. Watch the moments as they pass. Glimpse beauty, and yes, even joy in their beautiful impermanence. Something to aspire to, perhaps. And thank God.

Here’s one moment like that I glimpsed this summer that I want to hold with a thankful heart.

We’d been picking blackberries again – in the set away picnic spot we discovered last year and which has become for us the very idea of epitome of berry patches. This year, however, the fruit was sparse. The bushes had been trimmed and the kids found they couldn’t reach much. Inevitably, they got a little bored and found a place to sit and watch the river.

The Spouse and I kept picking what we could, happy that all three kids seemed settled. Then along came a swan. I saw it on the river just when the kids did and I warned them that it would be expecting bread and we only had blackberries. And no, I didn’t think that swans would like blackberries. I hope it wouldn’t be pushy or scare them. I hoped it wouldn’t get too close.

I suppose I was a little frightened that it might. Swans may be graceful on the river, but they have a lot of force in their bills not to mention the power of their mighty wings. The swan came in close, paddling right up to the shoreline where my kids sat. The kids stayed still, amazed at this beautiful, wild bird. Then Blue, in his own inimitable way, wondered aloud if the swan might like to hear a song.

And he sang.

He’s a musical kid and carries a tune well. He chose a song that he learned at choir and Bean joined in softly, a little self-consciously at first, but then more confidently as the swan seemed to listen. It really did. Whether birds hear songs as we do or even have a concept of music as opposed to noise, I have no idea, but this swan listened.  It stayed close to the shore, close enough that the children might have touched its head, and watched them with interest, turning back and forth in the water and paying close attention. The kids kept singing softly, fearlessly.

Later, they told me about the swan’s long feathers and its dark feet paddling under the surface of the river. They told me how it blinked its eye and listened to their songs.

I hope they will remember that afternoon, that swan and their song. It was beautiful and grace-filled and I’m so thankful that I was there to see that brief moment of shared wonder.



Photo by Matt Foster via Flickr, Creative Commons


About Katie Munnik

Katie Munnik is an Ottawa writer currently living in Cardiff with her Spouse and three growing children. Each Monday on the Messy Table, she writes about the practice of reading lectionary and the practical theology of parenting - from birthday cakes to broken hearts and everything in between. Katie also writes Kaleidoscopically, a monthly column in the print edition of the Presbyterian Record. You can also find Katie on twitter @messy_table Subscribe to this blog.