Amazingly, Susan White’s name alone wasn’t the most incredible swan related aspect of meeting this lovely woman on a rainy sunday in a small wood in north Leeds.
Whilst stood at the corner of a lake watching a family of swans groom themselves with the signets slowly picking up technique from their parents, Susan briskly walks up. At once the male swan makes the trademark hiss, which for me recoils the urban myths of people getting arms broken trying to pet swans which are protecting their young. I notice a dog out of the corner of my eye and put one and one together, but the swan continues to approach Susan hissing and rearing its tail feathers.
“Look, just wait” says Susan with loving patience, as she unwraps a full wholemeal loaf. By this point the Swan is a mere two foot away from me and they are big big birds, I think this myth to be true and slowly back off feeling a little uneasy that this lady seems unaware.
Susan blissfully begins feeding the Swans by hand, just like you would a dog at the table, at this point i notice Susan’s dog a comfortable 10m away up the embankment with a look like experience has taught him better.
The whole family surround her and she calmly tells us of her daily routine of feeding, how she has watched the family come together and grow. We hear of a previous batch of signets that weren’t so lucky and what she and others have done to help raise these new ones. I account the tameness of these birds to the local community interaction and wonder if it will have negative effect, but as Susan leaves, the Swans return to the bank and don’t return for any other passer by with bread. I feel safe in the knowledge that Swans work on a basis of trust, building rapport and mutual respect. Does this have anything to do with the wide multi-cultural mythology built around the Swan? Is it just the regality and beauty of the bird? Or is it that people who have the gift of fearless animal communication just don’t make good news stories?
For a while now I have been looking to purchase some swan feathers for the society of swandeliers, feather in your cap and all but it never really felt right to buy these things. I see strewn all around the are some perfect and imperfect fresh off the bird, feathers! Score !
I aim to go back to film Susan, collect more feathers for the society and take some pictures for her and the rest of the community who have helped raise these beautiful big birds. More to come as it happens with Susan White and if there are any questions for when I meet her then please add them here or on the comments section.