Ringwood Lake is a popular park in the Melbourne suburb of (surprise surprise) Ringwood. If you ever spent time there in the 80's or 90's chances are you encountered the black swan. No one knew where it came from, my parents suspect someone dumped it there. But I doubt that. This swan was the only swan in the area and lived at the lake for, well I don't know how long, but he was there for a good ten years while I was growing up.
The park grounds are immense, the lake itself is very wide. I haven't been there in over twenty five years so I'll be describing the park as it was back then. I hope it's not changed since, it was always very natural and beautiful. The kind of park that took care of itself, without much human intervention.
We visited Ringwood Lake a lot. Then in 1990 we moved to Ringwood and days at the lake became far more frequent.
On one side of the lake was a large playground set amongst the trees with numerous BBQ areas, tables, chairs and a few undercover shelters. In front of this was a small pier into the lake. Further up was a formal lawn, with (I think from memory) maples and conifers which backed onto the local pub. Further still a bush trail, and on to another playground.
On the other side of the lake it was weeping willows which cascaded into the lake, beyond them other grand tall trees all overgrown and gnarly. This was the natural reserve style side, which was left largely untouched by man. It was here where the majority of wildlife lived.
We only lived in Ringwood for a year and during that year the lake became a second home. The novelty of living so close to this previously far away lake never wore thin. Playgrounds were fun for about five minutes but, even as a child, my heart was drawn to nature. So most of my time was spent wandering around the lake and trees.
During the summer months people would swim in the lake. There was a shallow section near the pier, this is where most people entered the lake from. In all those years I'd never swam in the lake. But one summer day was different. I had a real thing about taming that swan, I was obsessed. On this day the swan was hanging out on the other side of the lake by the willows, away from all the people. From the lake's edge I'd been watching him. Figured if I got in the water I could coax him over for a pat.
Now, my mother is a bit of an animal hoarder and she's pretty unconventional. So when I asked 'Hey Mum, can I get in the lake and pat the swan?' her reaction was 'Yeah, but don't go in too deep'.
Cool, so with that I kicked off my shoes and marched on in wearing my clothes. What the hey, with unconventional parents, who needs swimming gear? I guess it was growing up with a Dr Doolittle home life, but somehow I 'knew' I could get this swan over for a pat and, well, that's what happened.
Being 9 at the time it didn't take long for the water to reach my chest, probably 15 to 20 feet from the lake's bank is about as far as I was comfortable going. Mum watched on from dry land. Being a hot day there were people in the water. I began beckoning the swan over by lightly slapping the water surface while saying something like 'come on'. Similar to how you'd call a dog over. Hey, I was 9, it seemed like a good idea. Well, the swan seemed to know what was what 'cause he watched me for a good while.
After what seemed like a long time, with a few snide remarks from some older kids thrown in for good measure, the swan started swimming over. I'm not sure how wide the lake is at that section but I'd guess maybe 70 or so ft. It took a while for swanny to make the journey across from the willows. This was one of those moments as a child that clued me in to how unconventional my mother is, as the surrounding parents and kids started backing away in a purple panic.
I hadn't exactly thought this through, the water was lapping around my collar bone and at this depth the swan levelled about a foot taller than me. This was now far more pressing than my newfound talent as aquatic bird whisperer. For the close proximity could soon be measured in centimetres, making this one formidable encounter not to scoff at. We had ducks at home and I considered myself well versed on aggressive traits, of which the swan showed none. So I extended a hand slowly, which was met with a keenly attentive bill, expecting food. I hadn't any food to give and up close his red and white bill appeared more weaponry than it ever did from a distance.
There was I not really knowing quite what to do next. Meanwhile people were gathering on the banks and on an overhead bridge, many of them taking pictures.
After a few awkward moments the swan seemed to realise I had no food. Funnily enough I can't remember if I ever pat him or not. What I do remember is swimming around with him for a short while and feeling comfortable with that. But then realised the swan was following me closely every which way I turned. I feared if I retreated quickly he'd pursue even faster. Imagine your eye level is about a foot below a swan, it's quite unsettling to say the least. But I was super glad for the experience. After about two minutes of this I swam toward the pier, thinking I'd go underneath, flank him, and reach land on the other side. Well, the swan was showing no signs of being fooled.
When I reached the pier someone was standing there. The person was dry and fully clothed, unlike the majority of people on the bank. I only saw shoes and trouser legs and worried it was a park ranger come over to tell me off or something. But when I looked up there was no one there. This happened very quickly, in between backward glances at the pursuing swan. I scanned the pier, no one there.
Some older kids clamoured back in the water, approaching. Their sudden eagerness to reach the swan collapsed against the water, jutting it out in waves and splashes. Well, swanny was having none of this and after a brief awkwardness with the older kids, he wisely swam back toward the other side of the lake.
Content I'd completed my mission, I headed back. My saturated clothes bucketed down in waterfalls as I left the lake. Some parents were throwing dagger looks at Mum and I was met with apprehension in the playground. This is a glimpse of my unconventional upbringing. I never identified as a misfit, I figured everyone else needed to catch up. In a way I guess the black swan was quite metaphoric, poetic even.
Last night I dreamed about that day, hadn't thought about it in years, let alone dream about it, I never have.
In the dream I was in the water at the end of the pier. I looked up to the pier and there stood my guardian looking down at me. He's not real big on expressions, but he seemed calm. I realised 'Oh, it was you that day, yeah that makes sense' and woke up. There was no one around in the dream, no swan, no people in the park. Also, in contrast to the actual day, in the dream the weather was overcast and dark. I wouldn't read too much into that, as I quite like dark rainy weather. Also it felt like morning, first light. Where as on the actual day it was afternoon.
Recently I've been put through the mill with family dramas. Haven't had a visitation dream from him in years, so this was pretty cool. Regarding the timing and context of everything, I believe he's reminding me of what makes me who I am, why I do what I do, and to stay strong. Possibly also letting me know that 'yes' he is 'watching', even when I don't hear from him. (I haven't in a few months) I've a feeling I need to reconnect with a part of myself from those Ringwood days, I'm still figuring that out.
Well all that lead me to relive, rethink and write about that day at the lake, where the physical world happenings were far more eventful than the paranormal ones. No offense to my guardian, getting a confirmation of sorts twenty some years later is a total blast. Something totally awesome about that.
Thanks for reading.