Tuesday, February 16, 2010
A Thing So Beautiful - Mute Swans
I have to confess that my whole notion of New Jersey has been the opening scenes of the Sopranos. The words "New Jersey" have conjured the worst stereotypes of guys named Guido and gum cracking dames with whiny voices and bad red hair. Both of these cartoon characters wear gobs of hideous, big, cheap jewelry. So far, I haven't met these people, though they may be lurking in any of the multitude of shopping malls around here. Until yesterday, it had seemed like New Jersey was endless parking lots, malls, concrete and cars. Though I had not met up with any hit men or hookers, New Jersey wasn't redeeming itself to me. But yesterday, David and I went south along the Garden State Parkway to Oceanville to the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge (Brigantine Division). There, I saw one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen, these Mute Swans. Birders refer to this Atlantic County wildlife refuge as simply "Brigantine," though it's not actually in the town of Brigantine. It is an amazingly beautiful expanse of some 40,000 acres of southern coastal salt marsh which are visited by 275 species of birds, some of them rare like the piping plover. Compared to Maine in winter, and the concrete jungle we had been visiting to the north, the place was alive with birds. The stands of reeds and rushes were pulsing with the calls of Red-winged blackbirds, Meadowlarks, mallards and honking geese. The sun was shining and it felt for all the world like spring. That alone would have been exhilarating. There was not a soul there but us, either. We stopped several times just to kiss each other and exclaim about the birds. We came around a corner on a trail and there, in a meager slip of open water were these swans. I could not get enough of them and took an embarrassing number of photographs. Mute swans are native to Europe, not the Americas. They were introduced here to beautify parks and estates. Some of them escaped and have successfully established breeding colonies. They have become a problem as they are very aggressive and compete with the naturally occurring birds. They are big, too, bigger than the Canada geese which are in the millions in New Jersey and are also a problem. Nonetheless, we brought the swans here because we are in love with them. They are the epitome of grace, beauty and romance. When David and I first saw these, in fact, we just sucked in our breath in awe. Maybe it was because we saw them in the wild or maybe because we had been so starved for anything seemingly natural. It's too bad that they are actually a big, bullying bird, an ornithological wise-guy mobster that will stomp on native ducks then take their lunch money.