Monday Motivation: Learn to fly with the seven cygnets of Priory Marina
The cygnets of Priory Marina Lake are learning to fly. Every day for the past week or two, seven of the offspring of our resident swans have taken to flapping their way up and down the central channel.
Sometimes the flying lessons are initiated by one of the parents. The adult stretches out its neck, its great wings beat the air, hitting the water with each downward thrust in a series of rapid explosions that send droplets of water scattering. Gathering speed, it rises from the water until its feet, awkward on land, run nimbly along the lake’s surface.
Now, the adult swans of course use this form of locomotion – half running, half flying – to launch themselves into the air. But just as frequently, they use it simply to hurry from one end of the lake to the other. It’s much faster than their usual stately glide.
But they also, quite deliberately, use it to teach their kids the rudiments of flying – and, presumably, to strengthen their flight muscles.
So up and down the lake every day they go. Either the adults or the cygnets start the exercise, but then they’re followed by the others who, one at a time, and sometimes two or even three of them together, race down the channel looking as if they’re about to soar into the air. At the last moment, however, they abandon any pretensions they might have had of taking off, and slew to a stop, raising a mini-tsunami as they do so.
Yesterday one cygnet briefly rose out of the water altogether for a few seconds. Its feet broke contact with the silvery-green surface. It was a Kitty Hawk moment, true flight seemed imminent… But it was not to be, and the cygnet settled back into the water, waggled its tail, and serenely began plucking pondweed from the depths.
Within the next few days, I imagine, one of the cygnets will lift off and soar effortlessly above the willows, sycamores and alders that surround the lake. Once one has achieved this feat, the others will swiftly follow.
It’s impossible, naturally, to plumb the consciousness of non-human animals. We can have no idea what goes on in an avian brain*. And yet I can’t help imagining the sense of triumph – or perhaps surprise – that a swan feels on first breaking free from the surly bonds of earth.
As writers we can learn at least one lesson from these nursery flights of cygnets preparing for their aerial existence.
When our cygnets first began practising, I’m sure they had no idea at all that it was possible to fly. And yet, with utmost diligence, they set about doing the exercises that would enable them to ascend into the heavens. Again and again and again they charged down the lake, endlessly repeating the same moves, going a little faster, increasing in confidence, each time.
And then, at some point, they’ll find themselves aloft. They’ll tuck their feet in, stretch their necks out, rise above the trees and plunge into the sun-split clouds…**
Just as we might, when we’ve absorbed the craft, have paid our dues and are able, finally, to take our place as proud members of the writing fraternity.
* I’m not sure that this is true of all birds, but some species at least are able to send half their brains to sleep at a time, so that they’re always at least partly alert to the dangers of the night (or the day, for nocturnal species). Now, try imagining that…
** You might have noticed that I’ve borrowed a couple of phrases from John Gillespie Magee’s poem, High Flight. Here’s a link: https://nationalpoetryday.co.uk/poem/high-flight/