Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Trumpet of the Swan

The Trumpet of the Swan
The Trumpet of the Swan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“An egg, because it contains life, is the most perfect thing there is. It is beautiful and mysterious” (E.B. White, The Trumpet of the Swan, p.23).

The stories we read as children and young adults can follow us into adulthood and shape our beliefs about the world that surrounds us. There are two seminal works that have shaped my connections with nature. The one I will write about here is E. B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan.  

For those of you who are not familiar with the story The Trumpet of the Swan, it is the tale of how a mute cygnet finds his voice and his relationship with a young boy named Sam Beaver. As you begin to read the first few pages of the story you are drawn into Canada’s wilderness. White describes in vivid detail the song of the different birds, many of which remain in my subconscious as symbols of my childhood, such as the chickadee and the iconic red wing black bird.

As a young child both my brother and I would spend our days outside, whether we were in the city in the winters or at a cottage by the lake or my grand-parents’ farm in the summers. Like Sam, we would embark on long hikes and explorative journeys watching, observing and delighting in the environment around us. If we were in the city, there were many parks nearby; or even our backyard where you could find fascinating caterpillars and various other insects. Whereas when we were in the country it was a setting that offered a cornucopia of larger, furrier, feathered or amphibious character to appeal to both our yearnings to explore these worlds beyond our own. My brother and I carried our sketch pads with us wherever we went. We could spend hours drawing and creating stories while observing the vivacity of the beings within our sight. As such, Sam’s escapades were a wonderful way to revive the fond memories of the day as I lay in bed reading. Although The Trumpet of the Swan was intended to be read by young boys, the character of Sam that E. B. White created for his story was an integral reason that I was so drawn to the story.

Mute Swan

Mute Swan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
My father was raised on a farm and his background influenced how we were brought up. Even in the city my father had a garden bursting with flowers, fruit and vegetables. As such, the chance to be close to nature was at arm’s length. As children that spent a great deal of time in natural settings, my brother and I also loved to care for nonhuman animals, and as a consequence, we lived with many different types of companion animals. We had fish, mice, rabbits, newts, cats and dogs, to name a few… I was also quite shy as a child, and I preferred to observe than to speak. And while our pets never could respond in English, these companions always had a patient ear to which we could reveal our secrets and share our sorrows. In this way, the character of Louis (the mute swan) was both like a mirror for my own sense of feeling voiceless and how I would express myself through art.

Throughout the story of The Trumpet of the Swan there are several mentions about the different expeditions in the Canadian wilderness that provide a rich canvas for Sam to fill his notebook with his numerous observations. There are also countless references to the friendship between Sam and Louis. In several passages White describes ways in which we must be aware of our holistic place in the world and respect the space of nonhuman nature. The story touches on the concepts of species extinction and how humans can play a part in contributing to the protection of endangered wildlife. Moreover, White brings to the forefront the idea of equality between species. This is best illustrated by the example when Louis is shot and the town-folk fetch the ambulance to save the injured swan.

The Trumpet of the Swan is a beautiful guide for young readers that truly fosters a deep connection to nonhuman nature through a narrative that is engaging and entices one to want to go out and experience similar personal adventures through respect and observation. Now there is no doubt that Louis highly anthropomorphized but this lets a younger reader connect more easily which allows one to foster empathy for the character of Louis…

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