In the early evening of a hot summer day I sat at the end of a wooden dock, my feet skimming the tepid water, watching a mother swan. Her coat was so white it shone vaguely blue, particularly as she floated atop the turquoise lake water.
What struck me most, however, was not her spectacular beauty but her calm demeanor. She floated, almost rested, on top of the water. Her head shifted from left to right above her long, graceful neck. Her movements were calculated and secure.
Behind her floated three cygnets, looking like puffy cotton balls with beaks. I recognized them as her offspring, not simply by their coal beaks but by her commanding demeanor. She was silent. They squeaked. And when they spoke to her she neither stopped or acknowledged their presence. She just kept paddling along. Neither mother nor cygnets seemed to pay any attention to each other. Always she kept her paddle feet pulling back the water beneath her breast.
As she passed by, I decided to show her beauty off to my three-year-old niece. Quietly I went to the house, grabbed a handful of bread and my niece, and together we padded back to the end of the dock.
When we returned, the mother swan was still floating by, but her triplets had drifted a ways behind. Feeling sorry for them, my niece threw a handful of mashed bread pieces towards them and they scurried over to get them before they dissolved. By the time the bread hit the water, the mother swan had darted like a shot between them and interrupted their eating. Then, the elegant beauty did something frightening.