The trumpeter swan pokes his nose through the water’s surface. Staring back at him, a wavering mirror radiates from his small, pointed beak. As he takes one step in, ripples ricochet from his thin legs to the tip of the shore. He delicately situates himself on top of the surface, admiring the dancing waves of water that will be his home all afternoon.
A man perches on the rocks along the shore at three o’clock. He gently breaks off pieces of bread and tosses the morsels into the water, scattering them about, feeding each bird.
The bevy of swans and the man live together in a certain harmony. Seeking refuge in an abode a stone’s throw away from either of their own homes, the pond is a space they inhabit in what seems like harmony. The pond is open and welcoming, with its lapping blue water reaching the shore, luring every passerby to the coast like a siren. The trumpeters bring their children with them on their excursions. These cygnets trail behind their mothers, learning to bob along the waters like pieces of driftwood. The man, accompanying the birds like a patient friend, brings nothing but bread and tranquility.
The cygnets first home was in a nest offshore constructed atop an old beaver dam. There was a time when they did not know the water, did not treat the pond like a long-lost brother. There will be times where they must migrate, relocate, and leave the nest forever. But for now, at the end of the day, they still return to the nest, burrowing their feet into their branchy abode. In the end, do they still call that “home?”
I am now the one perched on the pond’s edge, with my toes in the water and my palms sinking into the earth behind me. Silence engulfs the littoral zone, whispering laps of water the only noises to be heard. Memories flit across my brain, scattering across my temporal lobe like a flat rock dancing across water. I wonder where the trumpeters will retreat to, and I think about all the places I call home.
The yellow and red leaves cascade across the view of the quad from my dorm room three stories high. It is still warm enough for my windows to be open. I watch the thinnest of cirrus clouds ripple across the surface of a cornflower sky. It has been the most perfect September, tucked away at school with my friends and my lovely roommate and my fantastic view.
Yet, something is still missing. I nudge open my window a bit more, yearning to feel the misty air of an autumn afternoon. A squirrel rustles by, moving as swiftly as a hummingbird. I can see his paws moving, stretching toward the earth and grabbing acorns buried underneath the fading leaves. I am gazing out, three stories high, among the branches of the tallest oak in the yard. I am shocked by the closeness of the squirrel's life to my own.
It is easy to notice a rabbit as she whizzes by me on the grassy pathway or a slender wasp as he sings loudly in my ear while I am trying to study, but I often find it difficult to fully absorb what sits right in front of my nose. Who I am simply existing with. Whose homes overlap with mine. I don’t ever thank the long-legged spiders who eat the pesky mosquitoes, or the bumbling bees collecting and distributing pollen and nectar wherever they go. They offer their home to me, ever so graciously. I express my gratitude by simply living in quiet harmony with them.
I like to visit the pond, as do the birds. Though I may just dip my toes into the shimmering surface as the swans submerge and spend their whole day bobbing about, we both dwell long enough to be considered domestic. A brick-and-mortar home holds less weight than the memories I have in my mind of these places—the pond, my three-story-high dorm room, my bedroom. They are stitched together patch by patch, huts constructed by echoey recollections. I visit these places often. My childhood home has roots that spiral and dig into the earth. Somehow, these roots don’t prevent me from planting other flowers within the garden of my mind. Like a bee, I visit each one and take and give what I need, always keeping just enough to remember.
The swans exit the pond after a long day. They shake off the droplets from their webbed feet, and the man runs out of bread. He stands up, stretching his arms above his head in exhaustion. I don’t know where he goes when he leaves the pond. Even though I might be a little curious, I don’t want to know all that badly. Belonging engulfs me when I visit the pond. I know exactly who, what, and when everything will be there. Sitting by the shore and watching the waves gently tiptoe across the surface, I imagine myself floating with a trumpeter swan and singing with an arrogant wasp. Going outside on a misty autumn afternoon and walking headfirst into a cobweb. Blurring the lines between whose home is whose and what lives where. I can smell the mildew of a rotting beaver dam and I can taste the sweetness of a honeycomb if I squint hard enough.
“I climb, I backtrack. I float,” Mary Oliver wrote. “I ramble my way home.” Art has brought me home. Books, stories, music. A long, decompressing phone call. Turning off my alarm every morning that still rings at the same time it had all throughout high school.
I don’t have to stay in one place forever. I don’t need to. I have everything I need with me. Buttoned up into the pockets of my memory. I’ll reach in there when I feel cold, stretching past rooms and gardens. I tuck in my second-year dorm a little bit deeper each time I gaze out my window. My childhood home lays underneath it all, a silk slip. I’ll come back to the pond when I feel lonely. I’ll peek out at the swans. Watch the water ripple back and forth, cattails as they sway in the breeze, pollen as it dances on my cheeks. I head back home. When I wake up, I’ll walk side by side with tomorrow, and go wherever she takes me.