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Why we go when we go

I said I was going to stay home more this year and so far I haven’t been anywhere. But, of course, assignments I hadn’t anticipated are tempting me to a few places I haven’t seen before. So I have travel on my mind.

I have a secret suspicion my family believes, even though they do not say it aloud, that I sometimes like to travel on my own to escape them. But what they don’t know is that the very opposite is true. They are with me no matter where I am. But, sometimes, in a new place, I am able to get a clearer picture of who we have all become.

When I am at home, they are never far from my thoughts. Even when I try to push them into a corner, the people I love, all the quirky, precious, problematic people who make up my family, are always on my mind.

And the moment my attention strays from whatever task I’m working on, there they are, front and center. I often find myself sitting with my fingers still and frozen just above the keyboard, the brochure or column or whatever else I’d been writing forgotten for the moment.

Instead I am thinking about the son who is trying to find his way, worrying about the daughter who is too far away, the married daughter who is struggling to balance her own career and a family, or missing the youngest who is just beginning to figure out who she is and where she will go.

I see them as adults but that view is filtered through the images of their childhood and my time as the mother of four children.

At home everything reminds me of my children as they were; the house is full of photographs, mementoes, heirlooms and souvenirs of the life we’ve lived. I fold laundry and find an old t-shirt one of them left behind on the last visit. I look into the refrigerator and it feels strange to be making a meal for only the two of us after so many years of feeding a crowd.

I pick up toys after the granddaughter goes home and I’m assailed by memories of her mother playing with the same things and wonder at the speed at which the years have flown.

When I am home I can’t get enough distance from who we are were to see who we are now. But when I travel, especially when I am alone, the hotel room is sterile. No memories linger in its corners.

The landscape, sometimes even the language is unfamiliar and it’s then that I find myself figuring things out. It is as if I’ve brought a puzzle with me and relaxed, away from the distraction of what used to be, by looking only at the way the edges fit and not at the picture on the box, I can begin to piece together the mystery of the people I love.

Alone, with enough time and distance to think clearly, lying awake, unable to sleep in a new time zone, I replay our time together and sometimes there are sparks of clarity that startle me. I recall some small tone of voice, some turn of phrase or brief body language I missed in the moment. Sometimes, when they are not in front of me, I see more than I saw before.

 Of course, this goes both ways. I’ve noticed that when my grown children return after some time apart, they seem to be making their own adjustments to us, their parents. Most of them, and the youngest is almost there, chart their own course. They make decisions, sometimes life-changing decisions, without our input, just as we did at that age. But the awareness that we won’t always be here is creeping in and without the tension of the adolescent and young-adult tug-of-war for independence, they are more relaxed, more affectionate toward us.

I don’t say any of this to them. Not now. I let them tease me when I occasionally go off on my own because they’ll figure it out eventually. True love is impossible to leave behind and, like a star, sometimes shines brighter in a different sky.

Trumpeter swans hatch five cygnets at Turnbull

WILDLIFE WATCHING — Trumpeter swans are back in a family way at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge this week.

The photo at the bottom of this post shows the female rising above a newly hatched FIFTH cygnet onThursday morning as two siblings look on from the nest. I made the photo just off the paved trail at Middle Pine Lake near the refuge headquarters.

The male was on the water with two cygnets that hatched on Monday or Tuesday when I arrived today just before 8 a.m.

Two more cygnets could be seen partially under the wing of the female on the nest.

I sat for a long time across from the nest, watching as the male took his pair to the far end of Middle Pine Lake and rested with them on the shore. 

At 9:30 a.m., the female began making muffled honks.  The male got in the water with the two cygnets and started swimming toward the nest.  Just as he got there, the two cygnets under the mother’s wing crawled out, the female stood up and Presto!  Up popped the very weak head of the FIFTH cygnet for a brief second before it lay back down. 

The male paraded past a few times, as shown in the other photo. The female seemed to be showing off the new arrival.

Visitors willing to walk less than a mile round trip will be able to enjoy the family all summer.

"The cygnets will be stuck there for awhile since we have Cheever Lake drawn down for dam repairs," said Mike Rule, refuge biologist.

The female mated in 2009 with the late Solo, the male trumpeter who faithfully returned to Turnbull for two decades as a widower before finding a breeding female and ending Turnbull's drought of trumpeter production.

Read Solo's story here.

Solo and his new mate raised broods in 2009 and 2010. They returned last year, but Solo disappeared before they could mate, ending what biologists estimate was a remarkable 35-48 year tenure at the refuge.

Said Rule:

The identity of the father is unknown . We thought the swan hanging around with her since spring of last year was one of her 2010 cygnets. She was seen with a juvenile swan for most of 2011. This spring she has been with a single adult swan that was very territorial. Since her 2010 cygnet is not sexually mature, it is possible an unrelated older adult formed a pair bond this past spring as a few trumpeters move through the area at that time.

Biologist details last days of senior trumpeter swan at Turnbull Refuge

WILDLIFE – Today’s “Swan song” Outdoors feature in the Sunday Sports section tells the inspiring story of a senior swan at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge.

I dubbed him “Solo” when I wrote the 2002 column about the widower swan that kept returning to Turnbull without a mate.

But his perseverance paid off in 2009 when he finally bonded with a mate and sired the first hatch of cygnets on the refuge in 22 years. They repeated in 2010 with another brood.

Now it appears certain that Solo is gone. I’ve held off on the story since late January, working with refuge biologist Mike Rule to make certain that Solo didn’t show up as he has for about four decades.

A male trumpeter swan was found dead from lead poisoning nearby on Badger Lake in January. Rule does not think it was Solo, but he’s not sure. Unfortunately, the swan was not aged in the WSU necropsy.

Following is a long series of excerpts from my email correspondence with Rule, detailing the reasoning behind his belief that while Solo is gone, the legacy of his mate and offspring are alive and giving hope for a trumpeter swan future at Turnbull.

Birders asked to help track Turnbull trumpeters

WATERFOWL — Ice-up has ushered the trumpeter swans out of Turnbull National Wildlife refuge to where ever they go during winter.

Solo, the geriatric patriarch of his growing trumpeter family, departed the refuge with his mate and this year’s crop of five cygnets during Thanksgiving week, said Mike Rule, refuge biologist. Three yearling swans from last-year’s crop — the first brood at Turnbull in 22 years — also have left.

This morning, only a small 20-yard diameter opening remained in the ice on Cheever Lake, one of the swans’ favorite hang-outs, Rule said. The trumpeters require around 50 yards or more of open water for a “runway” in order to take off and get their heavy bodies airborne.

“I believe all wetlands on the refuge are now frozen over,” Rule said.

Rule said he plans to capture some of the younger swans next year and fix them with colored collars that would encourage birders to report swan sightings. This would help end the mystery of where Solo has been wintering undetected for the 33-46 years that he’s been on the refuge, Rule said.

Report swan sightings: “If your readers can be prompted to be on the look out, I would love to get notification of any sightings of swans this winter,” Rule said.

Email Mike Rule. Include your contact information, a good location description that includes the name of body of water and nearest road intersection, the number of swans in the group and the presence and number of any juveniles (gray with pink bills).