On Swan Lake…

Pam Pollock
January 2024

Sometimes a girl, or in my case, a little old Grandma keeps secrets from her parents – and well, pretty much the rest of the world. And for some unknown compelling reason, I feel the need this morning to spill my guts and share this tale with all of you.  If my Mom were still alive, she would be shocked, horrified and worried about what her “Pammy Sue” had done and she would cluck her tongue and scold me and then we’d hug it out…

My adventure began this past March, early in the month.  We had a seasonably warm winter thus far but this morning it was in the 20ºs and there was some snow on the ground.  Early March is a prime time for the Tundra Swans to pass through our area on their Spring Migration path.  Most of you know that I am a Birder.  I am totally obsessed with birds and love taking photos of them.  A couple of years ago I struck the Swan bonanza and found hundreds of Tundra Swans cruising on Lake Arthur at Porters Cove in nearby Moraine State Park. On this particular Sunday morning, I thought I would venture down to the Park and see if my “lucky birding feeling” would be accurate.

I told my husband where I was going and put on my new Columbia winter boots that I had received for Christmas.  They cost over $100; this little tidbit will be important later on.  I grabbed my gloves and of course my expensive camera with the super-duper telephoto lens and headed out on my adventure.  Porters Cove is kind of an off the beaten path (see what I did there?) area of the park.  It’s situated across from the lake that the majority of trails and launches and swimming areas.

My SUV and I bounced down the narrow, dirt road and sure enough, there were some Swans back in the cove.  Way back in the cove.  Not hundreds but enough to make this birder happy.  I love to watch these graceful creatures glide along the lake, their long necks curved and poised.  The problem was that where I was standing, at the edge of the lake, I could not get a good close-up photo of the Swans, even with my super-duper telephoto lens.  So, I decided to get back in my SUV and bounce back the road for about a mile and park in the mud and trek along  what I am guessing is an old gas well trail for almost a mile and come on the backside of the cove.  I actually patted myself on the back for this brilliant plan.

I would like to say that the walk back the trail was a piece of cake for me, but I’m middle-aged, chunky, have 2 bad knees and I was toting a very heavy camera.  I was huffing and puffing when I made it to my final destination.  (And let’s just say that it almost was my final destination…). I jumped off the gas well path and jogged down through the woods.  Score!  I found the Swans, and some ducks, and even some Ring-billed Gulls!  I was happily snapping photos but I wasn’t quite content with my shots.  I wanted close-up photos of these magnificent Swans.  I decided I would just “pop” down the little bank I was standing on in the woods and skirt the edge of the cove.  It sounds good on paper, eh?  It wasn’t…

I managed to take several steps down and away from the bank when disaster struck.  I wasn’t on the edge of the cove – I was IN the cove.  And mud grabbed ahold of me and sucked me in without warning.  One moment I am cheekily chortling to myself that I was sooo smart and the next second, I am entrenched in mud up to my knees.  I was stuck.  I didn’t panic at first.  I checked to make sure that my keys and cellphone were safely zipped in my coat pocket.  I didn’t want to lose those items when I began to move to get myself out of the miry mud.  I made sure that the camera strap was nice and tight because I definitely didn’t want my camera falling in.  Water was filling my boots and no matter how hard I tried, I could not lift my legs and get out of that mud.  I called, “Help”, which was very silly, because there was no one around save the Swans, the ducks, and the gulls and they didn’t give a fiddle-fart about my predicament. In layman’s terms, I was screwed.

I started wailing and thrashing and somehow, I managed to briefly free one boot, and I triumphantly raised my leg only to have it plummet back down into the mud.  I thought about calling my husband and casually saying, “Hey, honey.  How’s it going?  Are you busy?  Can you jump in your pick-up truck and drive for 20 minutes and then walk back and somehow get me out of the mud that I am stuck in?”

I didn’t think my sanity or my cold body could wait that long.  So I thrashed around some more and then I began yelling, “Dear Lord! Help me, Mom!  Help me, Jack! Help me, Strick!”  And my Mom, brother and father-in-law and the good Lord must have been listening because my one foot slipped out of the boot and I was able to plant in on the mud without being sucked in.  And here was my dilemma, would I be able to retrieve the boot and free my other leg?  I was not; however, I did get the other foot released from its boot.  I spied a root hanging from the bank and stretched my short little body as far as I could, while firmly grasping my camera with one arm, I got ahold of that root and somehow got myself up that bank.  I glanced back to check out my $100 Columbia boots but could not see them.  I was bordering on hysteria from my ordeal.  I was cold and wet up to my kneecaps.  I was tired.  So, what did I do, in my wet, stocking feet, I went through the woods, a little further down that old trail to take some more photos of the Swans.  Finally it dawned on me that this probably wasn’t the time to be focused on photography, so I began the almost 1 mile walk down the trail in wet socks.  I felt every twig, rock and yes, the snow as I trudged back to my car.  Once inside my auto, I stripped off my socks and tossed them in the back.  I rolled my pant legs up and turned the heater on to its highest setting. 

I gave thanks for being set free and I started the drive home.  And then I realized that I was a little hungry after my ordeal and I made a swing through the McDonald’s drive-thru at the Pilot Truck Stop. 

And so that, folks is my tale of being On and IN Swan Lake.  And Dad, now you know my secret that I made my family promise to never tell you.  And yes, that Columbia boots are probably still in the Cove, because I have not gone back there since.