He glared at me with his beady black eyes. Clutching the car's steering wheel, I stared back at him. I don't know which of us was more startled. He honked and flapped his wings. It was a swan in the middle of the road.
What was he doing here? This was a scenic road, but it's in a suburb of New York City - definitely not a swan's native habitat. And there were a lot of commuters traveling this road. Despite the swan's bluster, he was not safe.
I pulled my car into the closest driveway and grabbed a blanket from the backseat. I'd done a bit of falconry and knew that a falcon will calm if its eyes are covered. I didn't know if this also worked with swans, so walking quietly toward the bird, I bent down to pick up a long, slender branch.
I'd seen the movie "Heidi." I remembered how the shepherds used staffs to guide the sheep. Would a swan be willing to be guided? I had no idea. I had no experience with sheep or swans.
On water, swans epitomize grace as they glide across the surface. Walking on the side of a road, this one was clumsy. He stumbled, flapped his wings, stirred up dust, and honked again. His glaring at me when I was still in the car was nothing compared to his fury as I stood a few feet from him.
I gently tapped his side with the stick, and he scrambled to get away. I tapped his other side and was able to direct him along the side of the road, clear of passing cars.
One car slowed, and a woman lowered the window. Her children peered out at the swan.
"That's so cute," the woman exclaimed. "I've never seen anyone walk their swan before!"
I stared at her for a moment in disbelief, but soon had to return to my charge. The stopped car had frightened him more, and he flapped his wings and attempted to climb a small hill to escape. Stumbling, he rolled back down onto the road.
Obviously, he had never watched "Heidi." He didn't understand that I was trying to help him. With a few taps I had him safely back along the roadside as a second car approached.
Again, the driver lowered her window, but this one asked, "How can I help?"
"Would you please call the local police?" I requested. "This swan has become a driving hazard."
With a smile she pulled out her cellphone and chuckled as she described the scene to the police dispatcher. A police car arrived in a few minutes, and a young officer got out and began to direct traffic. Suburban gridlock.
"I have to warn you," he said with a laugh. "I know I'm new at this. My training never included swans!"
I shared with him my hope that the swan would quiet when I covered his head, but admitted I was baffled by what to do with him next. Bewildered, the young officer radioed his sergeant for advice.
"The sergeant said to put him in the nearest pond I can find. Where's a pond?" he asked.
As the policeman waved the passing cars around us, I draped the blanket over the bird. The swan sat down, tucked in his wings, and lowered his head. The officer opened the back door of the police cruiser, and I set the large bird on the seat, carefully securing the ends of the blanket.
As the bird rested from his ordeal, I gave the officer directions to a nearby pond. "This is crazy," he said with a chuckle as he slid into the driver's seat.
The next morning I opened the local paper and glanced at the entries under "Police Blotter." I laughed as I read the headline: "Officer Curtis and the Swan." The lead story teased our rookie cop, but detailed how he carefully, professionally released the swan into a local pond. There was even a phone number to call if anyone was missing a swan.
I smiled. Another hot news day in suburbia.