Swans in the sun 52836_StaatsThis past week has been a time of reflection.  The sudden and untimely death of my sister-in-law has remained fresh in my mind.  I appreciate all the comments and emails, the cards of concern, and the thoughts and prayers;  they’ve been helpful and comforting.  I’ve struggled with what lessons I can learn from this death and many things have come to mind:  (1) live a full life, each and every day, (2) plan for tomorrow, but live today, (3) don’t take anything or anyone for granted, (4) say “I love you” to the people you love, (5) extend a prayer of gratitude each morning for the grace of seeing the sun rise on yet another day.  I have a magnet that I have kept on the refrigerator door for the past 15 years.  So many days I don’t even notice it, but the words ring so true now:  “Live with intention.  Walk to the edge.  Do what you love.  Live as if this is all there is.”  – Mary Anne Radmacher

Our landscape has become winter-like this past week with a couple of small snowfalls accompanied by sub-zero temperatures.  Lakes that previously had thin ice have become more consistently frozen and our winter wildlife has become more at home with the cooler weather.  Within the heart of the Twin Cities are many lakes and wildlife areas, and this morning we ventured north about seven miles to an area of lakes that feed into each other, connected by canals or waterways.  This year there is a group of about 40 trumpeter swans that are calling this urban area home.  As we walked into the park the snow enveloped us with its quiet and hush, even though a county highway wasn’t far away.  After a bit we could hear the sounds of the swans and their accompanying mallard ducks as they traversed the canal.  They seemed quite content in this homeland within the city.  The trumpeter swans are large birds having a wingspan of up to seven feet.  As we stopped and watched it was easy to lose ourselves in their honking and the sound of their wings flapping.  The ducks were flying in and out of the waterway, and on the far shore we even spotted a mink as it scurried along the rocks and the ledges then slipped silently underwater.  It was a wonderful treat to spend the time in the outdoors surrounded by the wildlife and waterfowl that have given us this opportunity to observe them so close to our homes.

During the winter months in Minnesota many of our rivers and lakes freeze.  But there is a section of the Mississippi River that runs through the city of Monticello where the waters remain open because of a nuclear generating plant that operates upstream.  From mid-November through February, this area is home to over 1,500 trumpeter swans.  Because the swans weigh between 20-35 pounds each they need a large area to take off and land.  During a recent visit to Monticello, I spent a wonderful few hours along an open stretch of the river observing and photographing the swans as they came and went.   Not only was this a visual treat, but an auditory one as well.  The swans’ wings make a distinctive sound as they’re preparing to take off in flight.  This sound, along with their honking and the sounds of the Canada geese and ducks that were also in the area made for a wonderful cacophony that filled the cold morning air.  This is not your documentary photograph, but I chose a slow shutter speed to better convey the flight of the swans;  their grace and beauty was reflected in the river below them as they flew past me and upstream.