Swans in the Sea

One of the primary reasons in any pro column when processing an expatriation would have to be a perceived potential for expanding of horizons. Think of all the new things we’ll see, learn, experience and feel. (More on that.)

I have never seen Swans in such great quantity as I have come to know here in Denmark. Swans fill the lakes that separate the old city from the Copenhagen neighborhoods of Østerbro, Nørrebro, Fredericksburg and Vesterbro. Their graceful posturing and elegant cruising makes the shallow (and somewhat trash-filled) bodies of water near our hood somehow charming, even with giant construction cranes in the background. I am told that in the summer, swan-shaped paddle boats puddle up and down along side the birds. I am positive that my wee lass will enjoy partaking on some future warmer weathered afternoon.

The prevalence of swans pervades popular culture as well inspiring location naming here. Both our most utilized S-tog train station and the nearest beach use the Danish word for swan (svane) in their namesake – respectively Svanemøllen Station and Svanemølle Strand honor the majestic white birds. Do you know the story of the Ugly Duckling? Who doesn’t? Oh – you don’t? Oh. Ok – go read it, it’s a classic. Read it to your kids – lovely message. It’s kind of the “Rocky” story of fairy tales right? Do you know who wrote it? The Ugly Duckling, not Rocky. None other than Danmark’s own – H.C. Andersen. Yep and as it turns out – he tells people later in life – that the story was a metaphor for his own life experience. Spoiler alert – the little ugly duckling, awkward and ostracized, grows up to be the beautiful swan. Junior High anyone?

But Swans as I know them belong on a lake. Being balletic in background, with 15 years of my youth spent stretching, pointing, plié-ing, extending, port de bras’ing, rehearsing and performing ballet, I believe that swans belong on a lake. I was an avid attender and supporter of Oregon Ballet Theater while there and enjoyed their production of Swan Lake and will admit that I miss the regularity of that set date night every other month. (They are currently performing Cinderella, which I can both recommend and relate to.) If you are unfamiliar with Swan Lake, the iconic Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky classic, put it on your bucket list, preferably performed by a Russian company like the Kirov or Bolshoi that has a corps de ballet by the thousands – or… 24-32 is good too. Thirty-two perfectly synchronized, mesmerizing, white tutu’d and feather-crowned swans that float and dip and fly across the stage. For a tiny teaser – please enjoy my all-time favorite two minutes of ballet and you might see why. Brings tears to my eyes and chills to my skin every time. You too? No? Ok. Thanks for playing. As it turns out, similar to old Hans from Denmark, Peter’s work was not originally received as the masterpiece it is now considered. Criticized for being much too complicated musically, it wasn’t until later that it grew into its current and sustained popularity. Second only to the Nutcracker in performances and attendence, there are surely many many many more years of challenging musicians and dancers as well as delighting audiences to be found in Swan Lake. 

Swans are supposed to be on a lake. In a lake. Around a LAKE. My bias may also stem from the fact that I have spent the last seven years of my life living in a town called LAKE Oswego. Maybe. But here in Denmark (and other places I can now suppose) there are swans in the SEA. Swans on the beach. Swans in the ocean, people. Wha? Without having seen them – I may not have believed, but lovely and serene on the calm tide they seem. Until that is, they come ashore expecting the food they think they should receive, moving towards your children, my daughter only half again as tall as their menacing waddle. These birds are enormous. Beautiful. But ENORMOUS. Carefully, we allow them their space and haven’t gotten the courage to feed them as of yet.

Svanemølle Strand Svanes - these birds are big.
Svanemølle Strand Svanes – these birds are big.

But courageous, constantly, we are all required and attempting to be. On a daily basis. Trying to understand where we can be ourselves, but fit into the flock here in Denmark. It isn’t always easy. Our feathers may be changing, ever-slowly. The sun will come out. Tomorrow. (Sorry, the wee lass is practicing for the International School spring performances of Annie, the tunes of which pervade our sphere.) But, I will admit that we as a family – individually and together – are still feeling a wee bit more like the large, loud, grey-feathered, clumsy and awkward ducks still trying to fit into the barnyard flock. Waiting to emerge into our beautiful full-feathered culturally immersed elegance. Does that happen? I have a feeling we will lose a few more feathers in the evolution. Paddling along, we will continue and let the water roll off us. Spring is coming. Little blooms popping up in parks and around trees and under winter’s dead exhale. I can feel the days lengthening. We are literally gaining 4+ minutes of light every day. It’s palpable. Our spirits lengthen with it and in the words of my teenage son, “I have high hopes for summer.” So do I son, so do I. Breathing. In. Out. Repeat.

Love from Denmark!
Love from Denmark!