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Fall 2000 Edition

A Valiant Woman and the Vermont Swans
by Sue Holloway

wpe514.jpg (23489 bytes)Meeri Zetterstrom of Georgia, Vermont, has a home overlooking a 200-acre low marshland on Arrowhead Mountain Lake, a 740-acre body of freshwater located not far from the Canadian border. The lake feeds via the Lamollie River into Lake Champlain -- what locals call the "broad lake." The town of Georgia lies to the north of Arrowhead Lake. It is cold country; in October, the smaller lake may already be iced-in, with snow on the ground.

A native of Finland, Zetterstrom has lived in this area for 35 years. She keeps a video camera at the window to photograph nesting osprey and waterfowl in the marsh. When swans came to this lake in 1993, she watched as they built their nest of reeds and hatched their young.

As a result of her vigilance, in 1995 two swans were saved, after being iced-in from a quick-freeze. Two volunteers with the Vermont Wildlife Rehabilitation Association cut through the ice with their rowboat, providing an open area for flight.

cc-swanflt2.jpg (5830 bytes)Shocked to learn, in the summer of ‘97, that the Department of Fish and Wildlife was going to kill the eight resident swans, seventy-six year-old Zetterstrom joined efforts with hundreds of others who opposed this action.

Vermont wildlife policy placed a virtual pogrom on mute swans, the first action of its kind in the U.S. It was an actual ban on certain birds – not based on an actual problem in the state, but alleged potential.

Although officials claimed the swans were aggressive toward other waterfowl, Zetterstrom’s observations indicated the opposite. "I’ve never seen them chase a boat or hurt people or chase people," she said. "They [state biologists] claim they do all this damage and I haven’t seen it. They [the mute swans] are very good natured.

In 1997, officials captured swans, clipped their wings, and shipped them off to Texas, refusing to disclose the location. Meeri had to watch the capture, a painful experience. Later describing the scene to me in a thick Finnish accent, this septagenarian wept. "It was terrible, it was terrible." She decried the cruelty of confining the wild swans, who would be pinioned.

"It’s really heartbreaking.  We only have a few swans.  Why couldn’t they leave us a few?" queried Zetterstrom.

To her, the state’s priorities seemed skewed; it had taken years, for Zetterstrom to obtain a ban on boating in the marsh, to protect the osprey from harassment.

She protested to the media, after discovering that officials were destroying the swans’ eggs. And she traveled to the state capital, to protest the proposed murders of the adult swans. Her poignant statement forever burns brightly:

If I had wings and I could fly,

I would fly there and place myself

between the swan and the gunmen.

Then, if they kill the swans,

they would have to kill them through me."

- As quoted in the Montpelier Times Argus, 4/98

cc-swanflt3.jpg (7051 bytes)Tragically, this 76-year-old elder stood by helplessly as state "marksmen" missed in the first attempts to shoot the swans. She mourned the ordeal when they later hit a swan. "The swan didn’t even die right away, he was struggling and struggling," she later reported.

We mourn the loss of the swans; we decry the violations of the state upon these beautiful creatures; we celebrate the loving spirit of Meeri Zetterstrom.

* * *


- Photo of Meeri Zetterstrom with the violated swan egg (April 15, 1998) - taken by Tony Stevens

- Photo of swans in flight by Meeri Zetterstrom.

This story is excerpted and adapted from Swan in the Grail.

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