The story I am about to relate is entirely true. I have no proof beyond a few still photos and a panicked ‘before’ video. Now that I am home and pond scum-free, I’m not even sure I believe it happened. You be the judge.
My son loves going to Millenium Park regardless of weather or his mother’s energy levels. Typically we go on Saturday with the help of his ABA aide. (A young lady who works on my son’s social development and keeping-him-alive-in-public goals.) For the sake of this story, let’s call her “Alessandra.”
But this Saturday, my son spent the day vomiting horrendous amounts of gunk out of his system. By the end of the day, I think he managed to upchuck a week’s worth of food. Saturday sucked so hard.
Sunday rolls around and the kid bounces back like an energized rubber ball. Millenium Park is his reward for surviving and doing all of his work with his ABA. We have to go before dinner–and before the park officially closes at 6:00–so at 4:40 we skedaddle to make a quick, presumably uneventful visit.
[Cue: ‘Duh Duh Duh’ sound effect.]
We hop in the car and vroom vroom away. My son chooses the radio over Mommy’s book on tape, and in revenge, I sing Christmas carols at the top of my lungs all the way to the park. I’m just finished murdering Sleigh Ride when the ABA points out an inconvenient truth.
Alessandra: “Oh no, the park closes at 5:00.“
Me: “Sh*t. I mean, crap. I guess we’d better park in the lot across the street. There’s no way the kid is going to be done in under ten minutes.“
We park and shlep all of my son’s blankets and stuffed toys along the winding path to one of the grassy inlets to Millenium Park Lake. Beside the path to the lake, we spy a bevy of swans making vees in the water as they paddle. For a grey winter day, its pretty idyllic. We count as we walk, and five swans are tallied. (Which, according to the Twelve Days of Christmas, means we are two birds short of the requisite Seven Swans a-Swimming. If this is an omen, it is a confusing one.)
My son finds his happy place and proceeds to slam a blanket into the ground over and over with gleeful abandon.
The swans are immediately alarmed. In a flurry of white feathers, they make for the opposite side of the lake as fast as they possibly can. I mean, they book it. The sight of a weird red-and-black flapping giant on the shore slamming its wings into the ground over and over likely translates as ‘DANGER—DANGER–EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY!’
All of the swans get as far from us as possible. Except for one.
I’m chatting with the Alessandra and watching the lone swan off and on. At first, we thought maybe it was dead or asleep. It didn’t move. But then, it made one sluggish circle in the water. I had to check it out.
I pick my way across the mucky edges where weathered grasses are cut back along the shore of the lake, creating a swampy path to the white lump in the water. As I approach the swan, I can see blood marking its feathers along one side. It’s neck is bent at a really awkward angle–almost forcing it’s head under water. And, as I get closer, the problem becomes apparent. Somehow, the swan has managed to get snagged by a fishing lure. Badly. One hook is lodged through a nostril and another hook is sunk through the leathery webbing of its foot.
I call to the bird, trying to coax it closer.
Me: “Chrrr, chuck chuck chuck. Wheet wheet. FrrrrEEEE. Come here, birdy birdy, birdy!”
(I have no idea what noise a swan makes, so forgive my lack of ornithological chops.)
The swan rolls its eye at my attempts to communicate. Any time I come near, it hisses as if it would explode in a ball of feathered fury if only it could.
I call to it for a few minutes, reaching out with a branch I find nearby, but the bird wants nothing to do with me or my offers of help. It makes that clear by choosing to swim away–preferring to drown itself rather than tolerate my pathetic rescue attempts.
After a quick conversation with the ABA, we decide to call the Michigan DNR to see if they have any advice or help. I actually reach a human being–at 5:30 pm on a Sunday!
Josh: “Hello, Department of Natural Resources, how may I help you?”
Me: (Babbling a hundred miles a minute.) “Sorry, I wasn’t sure who to call. We are at a pond. There’s a severely injured swan. Is this who we call for help?“
I explain a few more salient details of where and what. The guy at the DNR department asks a few questions. Checks availability. Explains that they can’t get anyone out there until tomorrow. Then asks one more odd question.
Josh: “What color beak does the swan have?”
Me: (squints at swan) “Uh, orange, I think.” I look again. “Yeah! It’s a white swan with an orange beak.”
Josh: “I’m afraid that swan is considered an invasive species in Michigan. It isn’t likely that they will prioritize saving the bird if it is badly injured.” Then he added, “I wouldn’t recommend you try unless you are confident in your ability to do it safely. Swans are highly aggressive in general.“
I agreed with his assessment. If I were reincarnated in a species of bird, it most likely would be a chicken–a rotisserie one, at that. I give him my name and number and end the call.
I give the bird a sad look goodbye and go back to the ABA to explain the situation. I take a video, thinking to post it to Facebook in hopes someone out there is a swan recovery expert and will heed the call.
That’s when the ABA says the following:
Alessandra: “I’ll go in and get him, if you think we can help get him free?”
I look at her. It’s almost the end of her scheduled session. I point this out to her.
Alessandra: “Don’t worry about it. If we can help, let’s do it.”
I take a deep breath, look at the poor bird in the distance.
Me: “Okay. Let me get my boots off first though.”
The shore is equal parts bird poop and dissolved, disgusting vegetable matter. It feels like gritty clay mixed with swamp grease between my toes. The ABA plows straight into the water heading for the swan. I toe my way into the rocky, mucky waters after her. My feet feel like ice in seconds.
The swan is equal parts enraged and terrified. I use my cane to hook the bird between the unfortunate bow of its neck and leg and draw it closer. The hissing ire increases exponentially. Flapping wings send shock waves on the surface of the lake.
Undaunted, Alessandra swoops in and pulls one very angry bird into her arms and two-steps it to the shore. Her soaking wet ‘water proof‘ boots squish liquid distress as she sets the bird down at my muck encrusted bare feet. (Wolverine World Wide, you have a suit for false advertising in your future.)
I pin the bird’s head by using my cane to press down on the lure that has snared the poor thing. The swan is exhausted, other than muttering a few fowl expletives, it barely stirs.
I hold while Alessandra tries to get the first hook out of the webbed toes. She winces as the barbs poke her in her efforts. There is a tear in the flesh of the foot and, oh, how painful I imagine it must be as my bare feet freeze by slow degrees.
But no amount of gentle pulling or outright shoving budges the hook.
It’s getting late now. We either have to abandon our efforts or get help. I hold the bird down. Alessandra runs to find someone.
No one is around. It’s just me, my kid, an intrepid ABA and one pissed off fowl giving me the stink eye as the sun goes down.
Alessandra returns, out of breath.
Alessandra: “I can’t find anybody.”
Me: “I might have a tool in my car. Are you sure you want to keep trying?”
The bird makes no comment, it has collapsed to the ground as if it is prepared to die right there in front of us.
She’s an animal lover. It was almost unfair to even ask her knowing this. But now, I have to put my plan in action.
Me: “Okay. I’ll run to the car and see if I have a tool to get the hook out with.” I gesture with my cane, saying, “Put your hands on the cane here and here to hold the bird in place. I’ll be back!”
I haul on my boots–my socks have disappeared into the gloom of dusk settling on the scene. The park is eerily empty–like we’ve missed the wrap of a horror movie production. All the actors plus the camera crew are already gone and only the monster still waits in the dark.
I call to my son and we make our way up the slippery slope. I have left my cane as a bird beak trapping device, so I’m moving as fast as I can toward a car that is suddenly very far away.
I shout for help from anyone who might hear, but it’s as the ABA said; the place is empty.
Between my winded cries, my son keeps saying ‘Home. Go home.’
Given a choice, he’d leave Alessandra in the dark holding the bird just so he could get his dinner. I laugh at this thought even as I wheeze my way to the entrance of the park and across the road. The gates are still open.
In the car, I paw through the glove box and then the console between the seats. And, I find it. A multipurpose tool that I wasn’t entirely sure existed anywhere but in my imagination.
I slap my car into gear and, looking up, realize my son is standing behind the car putting his dirty blanket and stuffed animals into the trunk. Holy fuuuuuu…I have a backup camera, but I forgot to check. And I never would have noticed him if he hadn’t activated the lights when he opened the hatch. My adrenalin is doing a number on my nervous system. This pumps me into overdrive. I shout.
Me: Dude! Get in the car!”
Dude gets in the car. I make an executive decision to ignore the ‘park closed hours’ sign and gun it back through the gates and onto the walking paths back toward where I think we’ve left Alessandra questioning her love of animals and her choice of occupation.
As I drive, I kick on the high beams. The park looks unrecognizable at night. I’m trying to remember which way we walked. I’m breaking park rules on so many levels–I am a rebel on a lunatic mission. I am also near-missing black wrought iron and wood benches at every turn.
It’s fricken dark out here on the edge of adventure.
What follows you have to imagine. Unlike all of the ‘animal rescue videos’ I’ve enjoyed on Facebook, this one took place in the dark–with only two rescuers and a pissed off invasive species to witness the event. There was no one to hold a camera phone to record this for posterity.
So, picture it! There we are. Parking. Getting out. Yelling for Alessandra…not hearing her…and getting back in the car to drive to each successive path and try again.
I ask my son for help.
Me: “Dude, which way do we go? Where is Alessandra? Left or right?”
My son: “Right.”
He may not talk much, but that does not mean he doesn’t know stuff and tonight, it’s all the right stuff!
The next turn, we hear Alessandra’s reply
Alessandra: “I’m over here!”
I hurry after her voice. I’m completely ignoring my child, other than to listen as he follows me. I stumble to find my phone to turn on the flashlight app. I throw my purse to the ground and get the small, multipurpose tool out of its canvas case. I hold it up.
Me: “I’ve got this! Let’s save a swan!” (Okay, I’m totally making that up. I don’t remember what I said. But that sounds pretty cool. So, I’m leaving it.)
I pull on my fuzzy white glove on my left hand as a limited kind of protection from swan ire. I sink awkwardly to the ground and maneuver as I can trying to remove the hook. Alessandra holds the phone so I can see what I’m doing and keeps the cane holding the bird captive. While I work, I hear my son over my shoulder.
My child is gleeful that he gets a second visit to the water’s edge to slam his toy Speed McQueen into the muck while we wrestle with a bird nearby.
Alessandra wasn’t kidding. This hook was stuck fast. Nothing is budging it. Then I thought to check the tool for a tin snip. Alessandra spots it. Points it out. It takes seconds to break off the first hook. The swan’s head pops up against the release of its foot. But Alessandra holds the head down so I can work on the hook in its nostril.
The swan is actively spitting at me while I work. Now that it has its foot free, it is making Alessandra work to keep it still.
I can’t get a good grip on the hooked barb. It keeps slipping. The swan keeps spitting. It is going to get free any second!
The hook isn’t coming out without hurting the bird. So, instead, I just use the pliers to crush the end of the lure. The plastic pops free. The swan pops free–except for the length of fishing line that ties the lure to the hook…and by extension, to me.
With the shining light from a Samsung phone illuminating the enraged and suddenly free bird, I whip the tool out and yank the plastic line, snapping it in two.
I fall back. The bird sort of lunges back too–surprised at its freedom. It eyes us, dazed, probably trying to decide whether it should attack or flee. We hastily gather our stuff and depart. The swan does likewise. Everyone agrees–distance is the better choice this night.
We bundle ourselves up. The kid happily returns to the car. We skitter back through the pitch dark night–avoiding the deadly benches and grateful that the truck that passes us heading toward the service buildings nearby doesn’t try to stop us for joy riding along the pathways.
We are triumphant on the way home. Retelling our story to ourselves as if we couldn’t believe what had happened. It felt good. It felt like victory!
Me: “I’m so glad we did that!”
Alessandra: “Me too!”
Me: “I mean, I’ve always wondered what I would do in that kind of situation. And, yeah, maybe the bird won’t survive. But at least it has a chance now.”
Alessandra: “I know. I can’t believe we managed it!”
Me: “I’m just sad we couldn’t video tape it. I love those videos on Facebook! Nobody is going to believe me when I tell them.”
We are driving the winding road back alongside the Grand River when suddenly….
Me: “Ackkkk! A deer!”
Bambi tries to kill us. Okay, not Bambi as in a fawn, the buck has antlers, but they seem kind of anemic and scrawny. Like Bambi, but as a teenager.
The deer scampers into the woods unharmed, just. My heart stutters back into sinus rhythm. Slowly, we make our way home…still giddy with triumph, but cautiously so.
Me: “I guess, with Mother Nature, no good deed goes unpunished.”
Alessandra says nothing to contradict this. I am proven right when we get to the house.
We stumble out of the car. My son is dragging mucky, poop-laden stuffies and blankets to the door, impatient to get to his routines. I reach for my keys which are usually around my neck on a lanyard.
Me: “Oh no.”
Me: “My keys are missing.”
Alessandra: “Are you sure? Maybe you left them hanging in the car?” (She knows my habits well.)
Me: “No. I’m certain they were around my neck. I thought we were only going there for few minutes.”
So, if anyone wonders what I will be doing Monday morning, after my son gets on the bus, you may imagine me crawling through every single one of those grassy rows along a placid lake, hunting for my Harry Potter lanyard and wishing I had real magic to call: “Alohomora” to unlock doors or a flying broomstick to catch a key in midflight.
I just hope that damned bird didn’t take my keys with him! I bet the other swans don’t believe him when he tells them what happened either!
Proof of Swan Video Bonus: