Thursday, January 14, 2016

In Search of Swans

My husband and I started out one day with a drive to nearby Monticello. We were in search of swans. My interest was spurred by my memory jar. I've written in these pages of my own personal story of providing the gift of a memory jar, filled with memories I shared with my mother. While the jar remained unchanged the story around it evolved, deepening in meaning. Originally a thoughtful gift, as my mother lost memory it became a place to store and recall those forgotten memories. Ultimately it became mine alone, returning to its origin even as my mother returned to hers. I became the keeper of the memories.

I took that concept and created a memory jar to which I invited others to contribute. I asked them to tell me their memories once shared with someone who lost memory. My jar spills over with memories. So many people have shared this experience of a loved one's loss of memory. I am touched as I read through it, especially by those that are written longingly, fondly, to a person they loved who has lost a shared memory.

So how does this relate to my swan search? My intent was to take the most visual of these memories and paint them as part of my memory series. One day a woman stood in my studio and recorded a memory. I mentioned to her that many of the memories seemed to touch the senses, perhaps that is what helps us record a memory in our brains. She laughed and unfolded her memory, offering it to me to read.

I remember when you took the long way through town in the dead of winter, and you stopped by the river, turned off the motor, rolled down the windows and we listened to the hundreds of trumpeter swans.

I could not only hear this memory, but also easily visualize it. It became the first image I painted.

I did a search on-line and discovered that hundreds of trumpeter swans gather in Monticello each winter. I also discovered a YouTube video of them and that became the bones of my painting. Now I wanted to see them in the flesh and feathers.

As we approached Monticello, a 45 minute drive from the Twin Cities,we saw a large plume of smoke. Around it clouds reached upward in the sky, grey bottomed clouds. An old friend used to fly gliders in the thermals. I had learned to identify them by those grey bottoms. I picture a flick of a watercolor brush adding that definition. My husband commented that it must be a power plant. Of course, the plant must be responsible for the swans who gathered in waters that didn't freeze because of its warmth.

We followed our GPS to Swan Park, a lot between two houses on the river. Nearby swan planters graced a home on the river. A sign was posted about the Swan Lady, a woman who fed the swans for 30 years until her death. She made her husband promise to feed them as she lay upon her deathbed. I wondered if he was the man in the video who fed them. Did he grumble at that burden or does he perhaps think of his wife with love each time he lugs buckets of corn out to those noisy creatures. Perhaps some loving grumbling, swans after all mate for life, a fitting coda to promise to feed them for a spouse.

Alas no swans appeared. We had missed the 10:30 feeding and only ducks moved down the river. They moved rather strangely, as if on a moving sidewalk, too fast for those webbed feet paddling beneath the surface. Perhaps the thermals propel the currents as well. The only swans we saw that day were the two planters. We pledged to return during a feeding on another day.  

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