Requiem for a Lakelse Lake swan

On a recent Sabbath afternoon outing, my friends Terri and Grace came upon the remains of a white swan...

By Ken Anderson

On a recent Sabbath afternoon outing, my friends Terri and Grace came upon the remains of a white swan as they walked the shore of Lakelse Lake. It troubled Terri to see such a magnificent and beautiful bird lying there and she decided it should be buried.

Terri mentioned that to me as we visited mutual friends later that evening. I told her that if she wanted to do that, I would help her.  Next morning we drove to Gruchy’s Beach. I couldn’t find the key to the shop, where I had a round-nosed spade, so we took along two square-nosed shovels from my woodshed.

We parked the truck in the parking lot and hiked in to the lake, threading our way past magnificent, huge red cedars and hemlock, interspersed with pine and red alders.

Terri led us along the lake shore to the swan. We then searched for a place to bury it and found a spot under a pine tree just in from the water’s edge. I dug a big hole in the sand, down to the water table. Then we walked back to the swan. I picked it up with gloved hands and carried it back to the site we had chosen. It was a large bird – its soft, shimmering white feathers contrasting with its jet-black bill, feet, and legs – a trumpeter swan.

Near the burial site we had chosen we paused at a stone-mounted plaque dedicated to the memory of a 15-yr-old boy who died in 2004 jam while tubing on Williams Creek.

As we approached that plaque for the third time, we saw a shovel standing near it, shoved into the sand. I thought Terri had left it there as we walked back to get the swan, but she said she had not.

Neither of us had seen that shovel there before although it was in plain view when we did see it. The shovel was a round-nosed spade. We were both so surprised.

How did we not see it the other times we passed by? It was out in the open, and we both saw it immediately as we came back with the swan.

As we were approaching the memorial for the youth, Terri,  head down at the time, heard something. She didn’t say anything to me just then and we continued on.

I carried the swan to the hole, laid it gently in the bottom, asking Terri how it should be placed. We had it lying with its belly down, legs oriented to the east. I then curled its long neck around and tucked its head under its left wing, like it was sleeping. Terri concurred.

She reached down and moved the wing so it completely covered the swan’s eyes, to keep the sand out, and she started shovelling. I said I had something to share with her.

I brought out my Bible from my jacket pocket and read, “And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven; And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth , which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good; And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth; And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.” Gen. 1:20-23.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father; But the very hairs of your head are all numbered ‘ Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.”  Matt. 10:29-31.

We then filled in the grave and I gently packed the sand down with my feet. We smoothed out the ground after Terri dug up its surface to make a bigger area – perhaps the size of a human grave.

We didn’t put any stones on it as Terri thought it would draw attention to the grave and people would disturb it. But we agreed we could come back another time and perhaps tie a ribbon on the pine branches just above the grave.

We then retraced our steps, Terri pausing at that unexplained round-nose spade, pulling it out, then shoving it back into the sand, pushing it firmly into place with her foot, leaving it standing where we had found it near that young man’s memorial.

Terri told me later that the sound she had heard as we approached that memorial while carrying the swan was the swishing sound of a shovel going into sand.

Ken Anderson is a Terrace, B.C. lawyer.