Obituary for a Swan
By Jennifer Hull
Fred the Swan, of Georgica Pond, died suddenly and unexpectedly on a bright, August afternoon. He is survived, I presume, by many children, grandchildren and by a loyal mate, since they say that swans pair for life. His is also survived by his past and present neighbors Steven Spielberg, Calvin Klein, Martha Stewart, Bill and Hilary Clinton, as well as numerous osprey, blue crabs, and piping plovers.
Fred was quite a notorious celebrity, for a swan, and was featured in New York Magazine’s article “Hamptons Wildlife.” As anyone who has ever met a swan knows, swans are fiercely protective of their offspring. Fred was described as “particularly dangerous” on handwritten, cardboard signs posted around his home pond, which happens to be the setting of the 1975 documentary filmGreyGardensand also to be some of the most coveted real estate on the planet.
Fred’s death appears to have been a murder. My father witnessed him dying, though he did not witness the actual attack. He was kayaking that afternoon on the pond with my mother. They had driven out that morning from Stony Brook, and parked their car off ofMontauk HighwayinEast Hampton, near the shallow inlet of the pond. When they took their kayaks off the roof of their car, dragged them through the woods into the pond, and dipped their oars into the glassy mirror of salt water, they glided away from all their cares and worries. My father noticed the posted warning sides about Fred, but said he assumed they were a joke and didn’t pay them much attention.
My parents headed toward the gleaming stretch of sandbar that separates Georgica Pond from theAtlantic Ocean. Families of swans and their cygnets paddled together in the distance near the shoreline. My father saw a few other kayaks in the pond that afternoon, and noted the classic lines of the cedar hulled Beetle Cat sailboats moored in the pond, near estates with wide green lawns sweeping down to the water’s edge.
When they reached Georgica’s necklace of smooth sand, my parents pulled their kayaks up onto the shore and walked to the ocean side for a swim. A small group of three or four men with kayaks parked further down the beach appeared to be leaving as my parents arrived. After a decadent swim in the buoyant waves of the ocean, my parents sat on the beach in the sun. In his peripheral vision, my father noticed sand flying up from the pond side of the beach. When he turned his head towards it, he said it looked like something was flopping around, and walked over to take a closer look. Suddenly, he happened upon a single, giant white wing flapping from beneath the sand. The swan’s body was submerged. His neck was broken.
My dad surmised the formidable bird had been whacked with a kayak paddle and clumsily buried, still alive. He flagged down a jeep that came down the beach at that very moment, driven by what he described as “some environmental type.” When he returned to the swan with the environmental conservation police officer from the jeep, the swan was dead. The other kayakers my dad had noticed earlier were long gone.
My parents kayaked together quietly back toMontauk Highway. My dad, an ornery and protective father himself, is still haunted by the last moments of the swan, with whom I think he felt an instant kinship. No charges have been pressed. No services are planned. Fred will be remembered as a devoted, territorial and brave family male, undeterred by the power and influence of humans. He will be memorialized by all those, swan and non-swan, who glide across a pond gently in the light of an August afternoon.