The Lakelands

I suppose it must be the Dodder. Whatever flows into it, it’s the Lakelands, at Terenure – it’s
all I’ve known it as. It’s the first place where I can remember nature existing. There is a
bridge which seemed sturdy when I was 6, but when I visited it last week, it looked as if it
was composed of the discarded bits of a supermarket trolley. I was more than merely ginger
when I put my weight on it.
Yet, it used to support me and my dad, who would take me for a trot in the Lakelands every
summer night after dinner. We’d watch the minnows from that bridge, only half a foot off the
water. They’d nip through the clear water and disappear into the ground, or so it seemed to
me. Then, there was the grand, Big Bridge – the one that looked like the scene from The
King And I – the one like a semi circle, painted green, adorned with lattice work and curls.
Good bridge for Pooh-sticks. That’s what we played off that bridge, dashing from one side to
the other to see who would be the victor (me). It’s in the Lakelands that I learned not to
provoke swans.
They’re stately – the royals. The moorhens were more approachable. The duck proletariat.
They spent the spring and summer paddling and cheeping closer to the shores, to the edges
of the little islands. Not the swans. They settled up on the grass; or on the shale of the
strange little amphitheatre built on the lakeside.
‘Don’t get too close,’ my dad would say. ‘They can break a grown man’s arm.’
Have you heard that said about swans? Even if it’s true (and it might be), when did everyone
get together and decide that alongside ‘swans mate for life’, that would be fact imparted to
every single Irish child within a sniff of a swan?
My cousin doesn’t live far from here. During isolation, she and her boyfriend Josh walk
through the Lakelands. They saw the swans nesting, and became used to the sight of the
swans protecting their nest. Hard at work while the rest of us were on pause. They were
there for the first day of the cygnets. They tracked the fuzzy grey chicks on their Instagram
every day, even on the day when they found one of the cygnets fallen over the edge of the
water into a storm drain.
The footage went viral, actually; it’s the footage of Josh climbing into the storm drain, and
raising an apologetic hand to the swan mammy still floating on the water, as if to say ‘sorry
now, won’t be a mo’. He picks up the chick, plops it back into the water, and legs it before
the parents can show their appreciation with their beaks. It’s nature, you might tell him – but
it’s a man-man storm drain, and it’s one moment of kindness to restore a chick and save a
little life. Marie, my cousin, counts the cygnets every day and updates us through her
Instagram. Still five, thanks to Josh. The swan monarchy intact.
Maybe they’ll give Josh an honorary title. Duke of the Dodder – if that’s what it is.