Autobiographical Essays

Beate Caspari-Rosen, MD (1910 - 1995)

The Swan

Wednesday morning started out cloudy and rain seemed to be in the air, but by ten the sun had broken through the clouds and the sky became blue. This was the first morning after my return from the hospital [after heart surgery] that I was allowed to go outside without using a wheelchair. My practical nurse Ed and I drove to a near-by lake, parked the car, and I got out enjoying the pleasure of walking by myself again. The air smelled fall-like. The lake was still like a mirror and the surrounding trees reflected early glorious fall colors. Ducks and swans had gathered around the feeding place. I had found a substantial amount of stale bread and rolls in the refrigerator and since I  cannot dispose of bread that is still edible but not tasty, a remembrance of starving times in my childhood, in Berlin, during the First World War and its aftermath, I had taken the bread along to feed the animals. The small brownish female and large green--headed male mallard ducks quacked loudly and fought over every breadcrumb, while the gulls flew overhead and dived accurately to snap the morsels away from them. Two adult white swans stretched their long necks leisurely to grab some food while others with mottled grey black and white beaks were aggressive and had bad manners, as they pulled the bread right out of my fingers, nearly biting the hand that fed them. We slowly walked along the path, as the ducks and swans following us in the water, quacking noisily to remind us that they still expected more food. When we came to a little bridge I looked into the water. I saw a swan with its mass of white feathers and its neck extended bobbing quietly on the surface of the water. It was dead. The ducks had formed a perfect half circle around it about fifteen feet away. They were perfectly still. When I threw some bread into the water which landed between the dead swan and the half moon of ducks, no bird came near it. They just waited until I turned around and walked back to my car,  noisy and hopeful for a crumb as before. I wonder? Did they somehow feel the closeness of death and respect it ? It is so easy to endow animals with human feelings, but one should avoid anthropocentric interpretation of an animal’s behavior, but it is tempting to do so.


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