The Kayak Chronicles ©
by Darren Caffery
The Swan That's Out To Get Me
Swans always appeared to be such peaceful and tranquil creatures. They always seem depicted in movies as gracefully gliding along a quiet lake or pond. Well, since I started kayaking, my image of them has changed drastically and this shift in my perception all started in the paddling season of 2000. I call it the season of my first encounter with the attack swan from hell. Nightmare on Swan Lake? Call it what you like, it was far from peaceful.
It was a beautiful sunny day in early May and I had decided to launch my kayak out of Forge Pond in Brick Township NJ. The weather was warm, the sun was shining bright and I had the day off from both work and school. These were the days which started occupying fantasy space in my brain in late February as the days of snow and winter start to fade away and spring begins to make its arrival.
I launched alone as it was a Wednesday and all my other paddling partners from JSSKA were working. I was looking forward to some quiet paddling time anyway as a break from the hectic schedule at work, the anxiety from impending school deadlines for research papers, and the seemingly never ending cycle of studying for exams.
The launch was uneventful from the banks of Forge Pond, where I put my kayak to the water and then paddled under the Rt. 70 Bridge and down the Metedeconk River. Since it was early in the season, there were just a few stray boats from nearby marinas and as I glided past the marina into the tidal estuary an intense solitude overcame me. Little did I know this would be the calm before the storm. Lifting my paddle from the river, I sat and floated, my face absorbing the sun, and my ears, the intense silence, broken only on occasion by a few squawking sea gulls. In the distance, a beautiful white swan slowly glided towards me as if it thought maybe I had something to feed it. Lost in my Zen moment, I was mistakenly thinking, without really thinking too much about it, that the Swan would simply turn around when it realized I wasn't throwing any food its way. As it approached me, my Tao of Paddling moment was quickly interrupted, by an intuitive sense that this creature was getting too close for comfort. Some warning signal in my brain was immediately activated, as adrenaline surged my cortex and was to prepare me for fight or flight. Before I could even react, the swan, now looking much larger than it had in the distance began violently and furiously flapping its wings and 'honking' loudly as it swam up behind my boat with a sense of urgency. Needless to say, I had already began paddling away from it, however it followed behind me, picking up speed and was less than 3 feet away from me! My heart beat fast and I could not see the graceful beast behind me but could hear its loud continued honking and wing flapping. As I turned my head back as far as I could, in the corner of my eye I saw its powerful neck darting forward, aiming for the back of my head . In intense fear, I continued to paddle as fast as I could, while also attempting to maintain my balance and keep my kayak upright. As its neck darted forward towards me and was literally over the hull of my boat, I quickly raised my paddle from the water, as my kayak rocked violently from side to side. With both hands on the shaft of my paddle, I began haphazardly pounding the air behind me over my head and to the side where it approached me...a few times feeling a direct hit but unable to really see. I only heard the even louder honking of this large bird, and then saw a few fluffy white feathers flying in the airspace around my boat. After a few hits, I quickly dug the paddle back into the river, taking long swift strokes which catapulted my vessel away from the creature which was now seeing stars.
I finally felt safe again after paddling about 10 yards away from the beast, I turned around and saw it returning back to marshy reeds. What a relief. I could not believe a swan had just scared the hell out of me. For a moment, I wondered if I was on some type of "when animals attack" episode. You know, that show you see on cable's Animal Planet? I also had thoughts of the animal rights activists, waiting to paddle me at my take out for abusing such a 'helpless bird'! I had to laugh but my rapid heartbeat prevented full laughter.
Paddling back to Forge Pond, I was also hoping the beast wasn't going to pop out of the reeds and try a second sneak attack. On my return trip past the marina, some people who had been getting their boat ready for the season had watched the whole event from the distance, and laughingly asked me if I made a new friend!? I bit my tongue and held back my immediate thoughts.
"That thing won't be bothering me for a while", I replied with tough face and a sense of false bravado, as I continued to paddle towards my take out and recatch my breath.
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