Black Swans

Are any birds lovelier than swans? I've only had a few swan encounters before: a white swan in a pond outside Trinity College in Dublin, or in the theater, where white swans and black swans try to pirouette their way into a prince's heart or chasse themselves out from under a sorcerer's spell.

I've missed the ballet since we've been gone (an admission that garners gargantuan eye-rolling from Dominic). I remember one of my last visits to the opera house in San Francisco—a girlfriend and I treated ourselves to dinner and last-minute, nose-bleed seats to see a mixed program in the middle of a hectic work week.

The third piece was an Odette variation, and Yuan Yuan Tan landed a grande jete on the point of her left big toe, whisked her right leg into a fouetté turn, and held an arabesque for a few moments of exquisite stillness.

It was so blissful to just be in the audience, and so blissful to chill on a dock in the Marblorough Sounds and watch these dancers glide.

Later, we drove along the northwestern lobe of the South Island, an area known as the Golden Bay, and when a tight curve opened to a beach-lined stretch of road when, as though an invisible conductor just cued the Tchaikovsky, some 100-plus swans came paddling through the water.

With so many of the them we could observe more of their behaviors. They approached the shore and made an undulating neck motion, seeming to be either drinking water, ingesting small stones, or munching on shore grasses.  

A few of them started flying, but with their long necks it was a much more awkward looking process than Yuan Yuan's delicate flight through the air. There was a surprise in store—check out those bright white secondary feathers!