By Joan Larsen
It is the New Year – the new year of 2017, celebrated throughout the world with the traditional crowds always seen, fireworks lighting up the skies in every direction, laughter and excitement as there always is.
But we, the people of our world, are far more subdued this year. If we are honest – and most of us are – the once far more beautiful world that we still remember so fondly is no longer in place. Almost daily, we are bombarded with the constant fireworks-of-a-different-sort by the media, telling us of a world gone mad with no end in sight.
None of us can settle the world’s problems, but perhaps – perhaps – I still will be able to open your hearts to a world that still flourishes on our planet as it has done for all eternity. To me – who has a love of all things beautiful – I want to share a breathtaking story that I hope will be able to lift you as it has me.
It is almost a fairy tale to me . . . a tale that has happened every year in winter and is beauty in all of its glory right now.
There is a unique high Siberian lake that never freezes no matter how far the thermometer falls below zero. Fed by numerous hot springs – with steam rising high above its surface – you might guess that word has gotten out far and wide that this is the “spa to be seen swimming in” for this crème of the crop of birds in high Siberia in winter.
They are whooper swans – gorgeous and they know it. Once they come, well – they can’t resist staying for the whole winter season (Well, who could?).
And they can brag that not only are the waters warm and soothing to their bottoms, but this lake is clear – so transparent and pristine – that when they aren’t just swimming around elegantly, admiring themselves in their reflections, they can always glimpse the bottom. There is nothing murky here to offend their senses.
Long ago word had spread to other winged creatures that there was no need to fly south for weeks to spend the winter months. So spending the coldest months now, we can also find 2000 ducks – like the gorgeous Goldeneye, Tufted, Pintails and the Golden Goose – that too are stunning and special – and so are happily greeted by the original inhabitants.
To the local people in the small village in the Altai region of the country, the lake is aptly called Swan Lake. The swans are treated with enormous care and respect as you might guess, and in return, the birds treat the villagers to the most rewarding swan songs . . . and then, of course, the special treat of seeing the grace and beauty of their daily flights.
Like so many of us vacationing after a hectic year, the birds want peace and quiet. The local people respect and understand that need. They have built a very high viewing point with a panoramic view of the lake, but far enough away so the swans have privacy. Food is placed on special floats and sent out into the steaming lake, allowing people with those jobs to see the spectacular birds from a closer distance.
In March, the swans know it is time to fly north to the Siberian polar regions to nest. But next December they will be proudly introducing their young to the finest winter resort for whooper swans in the whole world – the well renowned Swan Lake.
The heart of Siberia took me by surprise.
– Ian Frazier, 2013
Many thanks to Russian photographer Alexander Tyryshkin for his beautiful photographs of Swan Lake.
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”