“When you hear the calls of the tundra swans, you are hearing the voice of the Arctic,” wrote a friend of mine a few years ago. This past week, the swans have been winging their way north through the light of day and dark of night and last evening their calls reverberated through the night sky high overheard. There is a wildness in their calls that lodges in my heart, unlike any other sound I know. It is the call of wind and wide spaces, of purpose and determination against all odds, of surrender to the annual urge that propels them back home again to breed on the Arctic plain’s vast tundra. Though other waterfowl migrate from wintering grounds to breeding grounds annually, the swans are special. Perhaps it is their grace and beauty on the wing or the sheer distance of their migration that compels me to stop what I am doing and look up. When they pass by in long broken lines, bodies glinting whiter than any snow, voices echoing to each other up so high that sometimes I can’t see them without binoculars I am filled with wonder, sometimes expressed in wide smiles and tears at the same time. I am an onlooker, a bystander allowed to observe and learn, but not to take part. I am an earthbound creature and they are not and so I watch with longing as they pass over, wave after wave on their way to a place I may well never get to see.
It is likely that the swans will pass over you for a few more days. If so, when you hear a distant sound like a muffled horn playing the same one note over and over… or when you catch a glimpse of white, glinting in the sun against a bright blue sky, stop what you are doing and look up and listen. The moment may be as close as you will ever come to the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, but if you can imagine the tundra filled with swans breeding and raising a new generation, you will never think of it in the same way again. You will recognize it as the natural home of these wondrous creatures and pray that it will remain so forever and ever.