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The Swan and the Grail

by Sue Holloway, Ph.D.

Excerpt , pp. 123-4

wpe22.jpg (17717 bytes)~ People are learning to respond with heart, led by the substance of real contexts provided in the local landscape. An emergency rescue of an injured swan in Branford provided such a focal point one April day in 1998, when a caller reported a swan with a broken wing.

He'd watched through the binoculars, while she was preening at the edge of the estuary. "She was trying to straighten her wing. She had all the primary feathers separated. Then I looked through her armpit and saw a black hole about four inches in diameter. It could be gangrene, the crust already turned black."

The swan had moved down to an embankment, near the water. I hesitated. "If she can get back into the water, she'll get away." But "Al" offered to help. "One of us can circle around and cut her off." There was no time to lose.

"Six house cats ganged up on her. I called some of the neighbors, and the most aggressive one was taken inside. But several are still around." He was impressed with the injured swan's audacity. "She moved back toward the river, and was able to display with a wing and-a-half."

By the time I arrived, she had floated off. We scanned the bay, home of about thirty swans. Al studied the situation. "There's one sandy beach, where the swan might have gone." To get there, he led the way through thick hillocks of winter spartina and salt hay. We passed one high clump upon which was perched a long wooden box with two black duck decoys.

cc-footprints.jpg (35759 bytes)We stumbled over straw-like mounds, trying to avoid sinking into low pockets of brackish water, then slipped through several neighbors' properties. There was the swan, resting on a tiny beach! Her disheveled wing hung limply.

Al hesitated, seeing the mate standing guard. I kept moving toward the exhausted swan. Greeting them, I thanked the male for keeping her safe. I promised to take her to a safe place for healing. The male stood by, allowing our approach. But the female nervously rose and scurried into a patch of wild wine berry. As I extricated myself from the brambles, Al held her neck.

When she was in my arms, her body and wings snuggled under a sheet, neck stretched out free, Al noted, "She hissed twice and trumpeted, but otherwise, she's not too upset." He added,"I have a healthy respect for the wing power of these birds. I've got a bald friend with a scar on his head, after he got too close to a nest."

A neighbor came over to see the swan. "What have we got here? Is she hurt?" He and Al stroked the swan's lush, downy neck, commenting on how good-natured she was. They were both concerned about taking her away from the mate.

The neighbor recalled an article in a Virginia newspaper, about some hunters in a duck blind. "They shot a female duck. When she came splashing down, the male hurried to her side and lay his wing over her. The hunters said they quit hunting."

He paused us, "Can you wait for just a moment more? Let me get my wife. She loves swans." He returned alone. "She doesn't have the heart to see this." We slipped through a passageway by a garage; I handed the swan over the bushes to Al. "It's amazing any of these still are here, with all the boys with their bb guns, and the hunters with their shotguns." He evidently saw a lot. "I'm a hunter. But I only hunt what's on the list and is in season."

Al slid the swan into a big box in the back seat. "You just gonna leave her like this?" He brought duct tape to tack down the top flaps, knowing that she could burst right through it, if she wanted. "I'll keep my eyes open for further problems; let me know when she's going to be released, so I can come, too. We want to get her near the right male." We shook hands. "Do you think they'll give her a name? Or will she just be a number?"

"Would you like to give her a name?" He was silent, then shook his head. "I can't think of anything. Maybe Number One since she's the first." He didn't specify the first of what...the first bird saved, rather than "taken"?

"How about Una -- that's One in Spanish," I suggested. He nodded, a brisk movement. "I like it." As the key turned in the ignition, he waved, "Take good care of U-N-A."

* * *

A few days later, Al called to report that the male continued to come around, looking for his mate. I had to tell him, "That wing was in bad shape. The bone and the sheath were totally disconnected." He wasn't surprised, figuring the break was from a propeller.

I told Al about cleansing, setting, and wrapping the wing; how the swan lay her head down, exhausted, and how Hope Douglas apologized for the painful procedure. "She told Una the healing was up to her. She would need to eat and drink and walk, to keep up her strength. When Una was back in the pen, she took a drink, then stood up tall and fluffed her neck, stretching and shimmying. Hope thought that was pretty good balance, with a taped wing!"

"You think she'll live?" We did. But would she fly again?

~ ~ ~ ~

Excerpt , p. 186

~ Theologian Matthew Fox quotes two ancients on the divine truth inherent in the natural world. Thomas Aquinas said that "revelation comes in two volumes -- the Bible and nature." The mystic Meister Eckhart said, "Every creature is a word of God and a book about God."

Another source, the Essene Gospel of Peace (1981), translated by Edmond Bordeaux Szekely from a third century Aramaic manuscript and old Slavonic texts, offers the words of Jesus of Nazareth: ...the law is life, whereas the scripture is dead...In everything that is life is the law written. You find it in the grass, in the tree, in the river, in the mountain, in the birds of heaven, in the fishes of the sea...the words of God... are written in His works... Each form of life carries a unique essence, expressing potential ways of being and knowing. Each is a language unto itself. It is in this respect -- in the spiritual "grammar" -- that "a swan is a swan is a swan." Swan is a gestalt of meaning, a constellation of many values and ideals; an aesthetic, not only of form, but of a way of being.

Various cultures have identified particular features and situated them in myth. From that, we think of swan as certain essences: devotion, beauty, love, serenity, playfulness, strength, creativity, sensuality, poetry, light, song...

Contemporary biology adds ferocity. Still, the whole is more than the sum of its parts, comprehended only in the gestalt contained in the organic, living form of swan itself -- an intelligent creature with a range of responses; not static, but evolving.

Commentary:

…highly recommended for anyone with an interest in wildlife, eco-spirituality, environmental ethics, and meaningful relationships between humans and animals.

- The Midwest Book Review -


The loveliest book that I have read in a long, long while! It's such a joy to come across someone who understands that the...creatures in the surrounding world are all gracious companions on our great journey. May everyone everywhere read this book.

- Thomas Berry, Author of The Great Work and Dream of the Earth -


…champions hope for the future of these majestic creatures as well as other treasures of nature which are entrusted to us…heartwarming and heartbreaking

- Lorraine Jay, author of Sea Turtle Journey


The beginning of a new awareness for the new millennium , just as Rachel Carson drew our attention in the mid-twentieth century

- Dale Carson, Abenaki author, The New Native American Cookbook


Perceptive and revealing; a comprehensive study of swan behavior…

- Irene Ruth, founder of Suburban Wildlife


A potent wake-up call. If an enchanting bird such as the swan can literally be maligned to death, what must the plight of other wildlife be at the hands of this entrenched, cold, clinical wildlife bureaucracy?

- Gregg Feigelson, Ph.D., President of the Coalition to Prevent the Destruction of Canada Geese

To order direct, contact:

GaiaQuest PO Box 3065 Branford, CT 06405 - Ph/FAX (203) 481-8747
ISBN1-929071-00-0 248 pp w/ Endnotes, References U.S.
$16.95 CT tax $1.02, s/h $2..50

May be ordered at local bookstores Or http://www.Amazon.com

GaiaQuest is a member of the Combined Book Exhibit, Small Publishers of North America (SPAN), Baker & Taylor, Ingram Express Books Program, Amazon Advantage.com, and the Orion Grassroots Network.

Please call or FAX (203) 481-8747 or e-mail gaiaquest@snet.net for more information.

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