Before I get to Baby though, I think it is fascinating how the small neighborhood of Mission Trace, like other older gated communities, seem to carve out a sanctuary of sorts for their residents, when just on the other side of the fence is all the hustle and bustle of a fast-paced and continuously growing and congested environment.
Like many of my fellow Silver Creek and Great Northwest neighbors who drive up Culebra Road every afternoon, I often wonder if all the traffic is worth it. So as I drove down Wurzbach and on Vance Jackson at the height of rush hour to get to Mission Trace, I had similar thoughts about the sense of living in such a congested area.
Those questions ceased as soon as the guard lifted the entry gate into Mission Trace. Surrounded by trees and walls that make the traffic on Vance Jackson disappear behind you, the small tree-lined lake to the right immediately catches your attention. The only distraction to the lake was a well-placed sign emphasizing the need to be cautious for the swans. As I drove in, I saw a duck casually sitting on a bench as though he was waiting for a bus or something.
The point is that just as I find the comfort of my home and my neighborhood to be worth the short drive up Culebra, I suspect the residents of Mission Trace soon forget about the bumper-to-bumper traffic navigated through to arrive in their little piece of heaven. And I’m willing to bet that wherever Baby’s parents came from to land in the small body of water in Mission Trace, they felt the flight was worth it. And that’s where Baby’s story begins.
I spoke with Sid and his friend Al, also a resident of Mission Trace, and they told me how the parents, Australian Black Swans had a small nest of babies, or cygnets as the young swans are called. The enemies of these young cygnets are turtles and hawks, both prevalent around the lake, and soon it became clear to residents of the area that the little babies would not survive.
Fearing for their safety, the property manager for the local HOA removed the cygnets from the predators around the lake when the Cop and Pen (the parents) could not protect them. Unfortunately, Baby’s two siblings did not survive.
Fast forward to a month or so ago and a now much larger but still immature Baby as she was named by the manager, was released to learn to live and enjoy the same peaceful solitude of the lake that human inhabitants of the area enjoy. But, Mother Nature, the prankster she can often be, gives the Australian Black Swan an apparent short memory. And without the standard baby-swan passport photo or the equivalent of those school year books that show your child growing from a toddler to an adult in 12 short years of public school, these poor swans had no idea who Baby was.
Worse, because some swans don’t feel at all icky about incest, and apparently others do, the parents took this new strange cygnet as a threat to the marriage. Sid reports that in one fowl exchange (sorry), Papa Swan “bit Baby's tail and shook her whole body like an old kitchen rug being shaken free of dust on the back porch. It scared the hell out of Baby...and me.”
So now, Baby has to be caged at night (conveniently beneath the picture window of Sid’s home, overlooking the lake), and she has to have water tubs from which to drink and slosh around in. Lettuce and seed come hand delivered at this point but I suspect she will learn to scrounge around the lake for vittles before too long.
What surprised me the most about meeting Baby was that she has taken to Sid’s voice and presence. When I asked if we could get close enough for a few happy-snaps, Sid simply wandered outside, called for her and picked her up as though she was a little puppy. When Al and I approached to get a better look, Baby tucked her beak in-between Sid’s protective arm and chest, though she looked up occasionally to see if we were still gawking at her. After a few nervous moments of introductions, Sid let Baby down and she wandered down toward the lake.
In addition to her estranged parents watching from a distance on the other side of the small lake, there was an egret not far from us contemplating his next move as occasional sprinkles of rain approached. Baby seemed fine dipping her feet into the water as long as we stood by, but I suspect she knew as well as Sid that once we retreated back to the house, the aggressive parents would not be nearly as standoffish.
Later, from the incredible view indoors looking out, Baby fled the pleasant water of the lake with her Springer-like parents in hot pursuit. Sid has a sense of Baby’s speed and was confident though visibly nervous about her ability to make it to the safety of her cage. Once on land and headed toward the house, the parents ceased the chase of the last of their offspring, with no idea on earth that only a season earlier, they had hatched the little cygnet.
In a few more months, Baby ought to make a pretty good centerpiece come Thanksgiving time. And with that, we were hopeful that Baby would survive this season, and the next.
Note: Thanks to Photographer Al for additional photos of Baby and her parents.