Something Glorious

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A mostly out-of-tune orchestra of trumpets and horns. That’s the strange music you hear long before you see anything at Swan Park.

Squeezing patiently through the crowd of spectators, many heavily armed with digital SLR cameras and zoom lenses, you eventually get a glimpse of glory.

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Trumpeter swans! Hundreds, sometimes even a thousand, wintering trumpeter swans gather on this rare spot of open water on the Mississippi River when the marshes and ponds in Minnesota are frozen. While the river does freeze over, this particular spot in Monticello rarely freezes because of the power plant upstream.

Joining the swans are hundreds of mallard ducks and Canadian geese, too.

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A riverside resident and swan-lover, Jim Lawrence broadcasts corn to feed the swans at 10:30 every morning between mid-November and March, and so the swans know him well. No one else gets this close to the wild birds.

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Jim’s late wife, Sheila Lawrence, was known as the Swan Lady. She fed and studied the swans for 25 years, helping document the restoration of these birds. The swans now number close to 5,000 in Minnesota, but these natives were absent from the state between the 1880s and 1960s. The Three Rivers Park District and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources were instrumental in reintroducing them to the state in the mid 1980s when 150 trumpeter swan eggs were brought in from Alaska.

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Knowing that history, it’s a miraculous, glorious sight to see so many swans. And yes, it’s cold just standing and watching.

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But these majestic birds fascinate and entertain you as they interact with each other and the sometimes bully the other waterfowl.

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The most amazing sight is seeing them come in for a water landing.

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Their approach seems slow as they glide in on wings spanning 7 feet. Their big webbed feet seem like a strange hybrid of landing gear, water-skis and black rubber boots.

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For details about visiting the swans on the Mississippi this winter, click here. And for more about the Swan Lady, check out this video from the Minnesota DNR.

Glory in the Interruptions

This week our homeschool had an unplanned, last-minute field trip that turned out to be a very memorable one. We had planned to do our usual school work at home, but then mid-morning a realtor scheduled a showing, and so we needed to leave the premises for at least an hour. I was grumpy about the interruption, but I quickly threw a picnic lunch together and headed to a nearby nature center for an attitude adjustment.

As we meandered into the woods, the sunshine glowing through the brilliantly colored leaves created a magical canopy overhead that helped dissolve my frustrations.

We ate our lunch — during which my youngest lost tooth #6. Oddly, she has lost three of her six lost teeth away from home. After our picnic, the girls and I played for about an hour in the nature exploration area, building a house out of sticks and logs.

The girls would have stayed there the rest of the afternoon, but I was hoping to get in a nice hike through the woods, so we set off on the trail. I lagged behind just a bit so I could capture a picture of them hiking down the path.

I paused to put away my camera, and I looked up when I heard sudden screams. The girls came running madly back toward me in a complete panic. When they ran right past me and nearly all the way back to the visitor center, I knew they must have seen something more frightening than a bee. Through the tears and sobs they finally explained that a garter snake in the path had spooked them. My oldest daughter was first to see it and, thinking it was a colorful stick, had bent down to pick it up just as it slithered off the path.

So much for my hike. Nothing — and I mean nothing — would convince them to head down that trail again anytime soon. I never even saw the snake, but I must admit I felt a little creeped-out, too. We headed toward the nearby dock to re-group for a few minutes at the lake, where snakes weren’t likely to find us. En route back to the visitor center, we came across a “wooly bear” caterpillar, which was much more warmly received than the garter snake.

Shortly after that, we loaded up into the truck and started for home. But just outside of the parking area we noticed a pair of Trumpeter swans on the pond.

Oh joy! And they were close enough to photograph. I turned around, parked the truck, hopped out and captured a few shots of the swans. The girls weren’t eager to hike much closer to the pond, but I didn’t mind. This distance was close enough to photograph the beautiful pair.

If you’ve been reading this blog long, you know I am slightly obsessed with Trumpeter swans, as I have mentioned in this post about a spring swan sighting and this post about how God orchestrates our homeschool plans.

It’s amazing how God truly reveals His glory in the interruptions some days.


Look at the Birds!

— another favorite from the archives —


“Look!” my big girl gasps, running toward the window. “Robins! In our yard!”

Quickly the little one and I join her at the window, and together we welcome the feathered strangers. The freshly falling snow of late March does not deter the playful robins as they flutter about happily in the backyard.  An especially plump robin perches high in the branches, a patch of snow still clinging to his red breast and his feet.

“Cheer up, cheer up,” the first robins sing.

Cheer up, indeed! Even as the snow blankets us again, their songs give us hope for spring as the end of a long, harsh winter draws nearer. Soon will come nests and eggs. Soon will come worms for the chirping baby birds. Soon will come little birds testing their wings, learning to fly.

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” -Matthew 6:26

March melts into April, and the birds return to this Frozen Tundra in great numbers. Red-winged black birds, robins, sparrows, Canadian geese and — my favorite — swans.

As I’m out and about all week long, I see swans everywhere — dozens of them. On the way to church, on a walk in the neighborhood, on the way to and from dinner Thursday night, on the way to pick up a friend’s little boy, and on the way to and from a birthday party — swans, swans, swans! Soon to pair off and settle in ponds and lakes, the swans migrate together, and oh! What joy as they surround us — these amazing creatures, full of grace!

I look at the birds, and God reminds me of His faithfulness.

Without my camera along on any of these trips, my inner shutterbug longs to capture the swans, to store up the grace moment and treasure it.

The week draws to its end; Saturday evening before sunset our family loads up in the minivan and heads back to the one spots where, earlier in the day, nearly a hundred swans gathered in a low, flooded area in a corn field. Leaving my family in the van, watching closely, I head eagerly into the muddy field. My newest tennis shoes greet the muddy field and I manuever carefully, happy to find a narrow path of dry weeds between two sections of the field. I nearly sink into the mud as I approach the water.

Swans! Hundreds of gloriously graceful swans — and several ducks, too. The honking and quacking mingles into noisy bird music. Most of the swans glide gently across the water, but some fish for food underwater.

Suddenly a few swans soar up into the sky. Their black bills confirm they are Trumpeters. Their necks stretch long and wings mount high toward the clouds —  right over my head! I pull the hood of my sweatshirt over my head, just in case.

A glorious swan moment. Finally captured! I stand in the muddy field, thankful I migrated to the right place at exactly the right moment.

Looking down, white feathers float, scattered across the water.

“He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” -Psalm 91:4

I look at the birds, and God reminds me of His faithfulness.

God keeps showing me how faithful He is. May I also suggest this post from last spring: Orchestrating the Swans?