FLICK OF A SWITCH
Every two years I treat myself to a week away from the strain of civilisation to camp next to, and fish, a secluded lake with my brother and two friends.
The moment when I turn off the ignition and step out of the car into the cool shade of the mature trees surrounding the pool, knowing that this peace will last for seven whole days, induces a sudden, powerful and primeval feeling of wellbeing. The adrenaline that has been coursing through my veins falls away in the time it takes for the car engine to cool. However, on this occasion, there was a tinge of apprehension.
In the close season we had visited the lake one evening to savour the atmosphere, check out the various fishing spots and hopefully catch a glimpse of our quarry — a population of monster carp. But we had been unable to approach the bank without the peace being shattered by the rhythmic slapping and whooshing of a testosterone-charged cob swan bearing down on us. His mate was sitting on her nest in the shallows at one end of the three-acre lake, but no matter where we tried to peer out, he would be there, churning the water to foam and generally spoiling our fun.
And so it was that I stepped into the sunlight on the dam wall a month later, only to find my touch of anxiety well placed. There was the distant white form of the incubating pen at the far end of the lake and between us the ever-increasing wake of her mate ploughing through the water towards me, neck inflated, head back and wings presented in an impressive show of muscle and guts. The week was gong to be interesting to say the least. Trying to cast a bait was going to be hard enough, let alone catch a fish.
The next morning I rose early to experience the solitude I had craved for so long. It was a classic summer dawn, with a low mist and the still surface matt with the dust of summer, punctuated with emerging clumps of lush weed. I grabbed my rod and headed for the shallows hoping that, along with my companions, the cob was still dozing on the far bank.
As I approached the nest site, I noticed to my dismay that the cob was at home, very much awake, standing next to his mate. I was in clear view, but something was different. He was stooped, almost submissive, examining the nest, and as he stepped gingerly to one side I saw the reason for this dramatic mood swing — three newly hatched cygnets and behind him an unhatched egg.
I sat on the bank, a few feet from the nest, taking in this idyllic scene and hoping that I might witness the hatching of the last cygnet. The carp that would be moving around on the surface, and probably willing to feed on what I had to offer, were ignored — I was blind to them in the same way that the cob was blind to my presence, seemingly overwhelmed by adoration and awe, though in cold, scientific reality probably just experiencing a sudden hormonal switch. The tetchy, nervous and potentially aggressive father to be was now subdued and in touch with his feminine side. (The last egg never did hatch.)
For the rest of our stay the family proudly cruised the pool, taking no notice of our activities and allowing us to fish in peace. Now that they were no longer anchored to the bank-side nest, the threat that they had felt before evaporated in the safety of the open water. We felt welcome and privileged to share their paradise.
At the end of a blissful and fishful week, with boots loaded and after a final farewell to the pool and its inhabitants, we started our cars and departed in convoy for the world we had left behind, trying in vain to hold on to the mood and keep the hormones at bay.
© Patrick Fox (2009)