Afloat on birdsong, hawthorn petals and young leaves
Dec. 13, 2020


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Why is the swan an oxymoron and if it is so unlucky to kill a swan why are there so many recipes for them? In this episode we reflect on the place of the swan within its natural and cultural environments.
Lockdown and being located within ‘Tier 3’ has meant that we have been more static this autumn and winter than we had previously intended. However, the positive side of this is that it has enabled us to get to know the local communities that live around our boat. These include my beloved rooks, but has also given me a fresh perspective on a species I have not really thought much about; the swan. 

Journal entry:

“12th December, Saturday.

Icy Phaethon tracks the fearless dark and touches the Earth with a scatter of mercurial light. As silent as owls’ wings, as swift as falling angels, the stars fall. 

Frosted crystal beneath our feet and clouded breath. We walk on in wonder...”

Episode Information

Photographs of our pair of swan and of the ducklings can be found on the Nighttime on Still Waters Facebook page; Instagram and Twitter feeds.

For more information on haunting presence of Phaethon, the assumed 'parent' of the Geminid meteor shower, go to: Explore Phaethon

The Swan’ by Mary Oliver was published in The Paris Review124, (Fall) 1992.

I also refer to WB Yeats’ poem ‘The Wild Swans of Coole’. You can read and hear it by following this link: Poetry Foundation.

In this episode I read a short extract from page 82 of Richard Jeffries’ (1881) Wood Magic: A Fable published by Cassell and Co.   

I also read from An English Almanac written and illustrated by Miles Hadfield (1950) published by JM Dent and Sons. 

Lots of folklore (and recipes) for the swan can be found in Stefan Buczacki’s (2002) Fauna Britanica published by Hamlyn. [I rather mangled his name in the episode – apologies Stefan!]

There is a great website featuring the audio clips of the different sounds swans make: Rattling Crow: Mute swan acoustic communication.

General Details

In the intro and the outro, Saint-Saen's The Swan is performed by Karr and Bernstein (1961) and available on CC at

Two-stroke narrowboat engine recorded by 'James2nd' on the River weaver, Cheshire. Uploaded on 23rd June 2018. Creative Commons Licence. 

Piano interludes composed and performed by Helen Ingram.

All other audio recorded on site. 

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