Mr. Swan

Mr. Swan

My five-year-daughter Naomi and I recently went swan hunting along the banks of the Colorado River which flows through our fair city of Austin.

Before you notify the Humane Fowl Society, I mean “hunt” in the sense of looking for them to admire their majestic beauty. We were strolling along this river during half time at my daughter Ana’s lacrosse game. Her high school is located right next to this body of water which we Austinites call “Town Lake.” The hike and bike trails that run along its banks are an ideal location for strollers, joggers, bikers and swan hunters.

There is one swan we know of who makes his home on Town Lake. Once during another game’s half-time, we saw him floating on the other side of the river from where we stood, and we desired to get a closer look. We called out to him and pretended to throw something in the water, hoping he would think it was bread crumbs. He quickly paddled over, figured out he had been deceived, and left in a hurry. Naomi profusely apologized, calling out loudly after him, but I did get some good pictures. I know what you’re thinking…it’s mean to deceive swans.

During the next game’s half time we tried again, this time bringing actual bread crumbs. From across the river I think Mr. Swan looked up at us (it’s hard to tell for sure because they kind of look at you sideways), and didn’t bother to paddle over. Naomi screamed out her heartfelt apologies, “We’re sorry Mr. Swan!  We have bread this time!” But Mr. Swan wasn’t buying it.

Then this time, on Ana’s final home game, we brought with us more bread and even more determination. We went to our usual spot and didn’t see him. So we took a long trek to the foot bridge that overlooks Town Lake for a better vantage point and we saw him on the other side. We climbed through off-shoot trails to get to the bank on that side, and Naomi was very excited that swan feeding was imminent. But by the time we got there, he had decided to go back to the other side where we were previously. Nice play, Mr. Swan. You have taught us our lesson. The deceivers have now become the deceived.

It was nearing the end of half-time and we needed to be reunited with our family. Plus Naomi really had to go to the bathroom and she was refusing to use the nasty Porta-Potty’s that we had passed along the trails. It was now or never to get those bread crumbs to Mr. Swan.

We made our way back across the river, got as close as we could to Mr. Swan from an overlook point, and called out to him as usual. Mr. Swan looked up at us (again sideways, so hard to tell) and we started furiously throwing bread crumbs in his direction. He didn’t seem that impressed, even knowing that we had clearly changed our ways and were throwing authentic bread crumbs before his royal audience.

There were already other people at the overlook point, all of them enjoying Town Lake at sunset. We interrupted them all with our frantic swan calling and bread crumb throwing. There was s couple on a bench whom I could tell had been arguing.  A hip Austin girl was sitting on the rocks at the water’s edge, strumming her guitar and jotting down lyrics to a song that she was writing in her notebook. There were also some tourists taking pictures.

But then something magical happened, something that made little Naomi start jumping up and down with glee. Mr. Swan gently glided over to where we were, ready to receive our offerings. The couple stopped arguing. The musician stopped strumming. The tourists gasped and started taking even more pictures. And Naomi and I couldn’t have been happier.

I heard an insightful friend once remark that he wasn’t surprised more and more people consider themselves atheists as we live in such a man-man world.  We drive our smartly engineered cars to our steel offices, work in cubicles under florescent lighting, stare at computer screens all day, drive home through dense traffic, click open our automatic garage doors, then sit on our comfortable synthetic sofas and turn on a man-made box which delivers us entertainment.  Barely one whisper of the glory of creation, day in and day out.

The ancients, by comparison, lived their entire lives surrounded by creation. Their days were framed by sunrises and sunsets. The seasons of sowing and harvest tied them to the rhythms of the earth. They felt the sun’s heat on their backs, splashed cool water in their faces from streams, and walked along mountain ridges under pastel skies. They tended their own animals, farmed their soil with their own hands and helped deliver their own babies. At night they would look up in wonder at the starry hosts and feel a tug of worship in their souls.

To them, Paul’s argument to the believers in Rome would make sense: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made…” (Romans 1:20, NASB).

There on the banks of Town Lake, a delicate creature which could only have been thought-up by a wondrously creative author, something straight out of a fairy tale, awestruck a group of strangers and made them all stop what they were doing.  The beauty of creation points in one direction, toward a loving Creator.  God didn’t have to create swans, but they brought delight to His heart and He wanted to share them with all His children.

I don’t know about the other people in that moment, but for me I couldn’t help but thank the Master Creator of this gentle creature which brought such delight to my daughter’s heart.  And I said to myself, I need to go out of my way more often to sense these gentle, glorious whispers from His heart.

Thanks Mr. Swan.

— Mike O’Quin, author, Java Wake and Growing Desperate

Take A Walk

On the south coast of Java this past weekend, I played on a beach that is accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicles or motorcycles that dare.  I guess the other way would be if you happened to be born in one of the nearby fishing villages and could walk there.


The beach is of course secluded.  Very beautiful and very secluded.  No stores, no beach hawkers selling trinkets, hardly any people there except a few lone fishermen and another jeep full of Indonesians who made their way through the dirt roads to the pristine location.  My son and his friends and I had the beach almost all to ourselves and we had a blast celebrating his 16th birthday together.


Impossible rock formations jutted out of the sea’s horizon.  Gigantic waves crashed against the coral and formed tide pools on the beaches, hiding millions of treasures of tiny seashells.  An overcast day protected us from the brutal tropical sun.  Waves to play in, sand to sculpt, a cave to explore, a fresh water lagoon to refresh ourselves…a perfect day.  I kept thinking, this is so much beauty for just two eyes to take in within the space of just one day.


The next day I found myself, almost automatically, in a better mood.  There was just an extra bounce of joy in my step.  I think some of the stresses of my life got washed away in that rumbling surf and crystal clear lagoon.


There’s something about God’s creation that makes our souls come alive.


I’ve heard it said that the writer C.S. Lewis didn’t feel his day was complete without a walk in the English countryside.  Maybe this was the inspirational source of his creative genius?  I tried in vain to find his exact quote, but I did discover that he would often walk on a picturesque path in Oxford along the River Cherwell called “Addison’s Walk,” named after a famous scholar.


Lewis would frequently stroll on that footpath with fellow writers like Hugo Dyson and J.R. Tolkien who created the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  In September of 1931, he recorded one such walk in a letter to a friend:


“He [Hugo Dyson] stayed the night with me in College… Tolkien came too, and did not leave till 3 in the morning… We began (in Addison's Walk just after dinner) on metaphor and mythinterrupted by a rush of wind which came so suddenly on the still warm evening and sent so many leaves pattering down that we thought it was raining….We continued on Christianity: a good long satisfying talk in which I learned a lot….”[i]


Can you place yourself there on that green footpath, in the company of two creative geniuses, one who imagined Middle Earth and other Narnia, walking along a gentle English river together and talking about art, religion and philosophy until late in the night?  I think the setting must have been important for their creative friendship.  I can’t imagine their creative juices flowing that sweetly at a freeway McDonald’s over a rushed breakfast.


The connection between Creativity and Creation and Creator can easily be missed in our high-tech, fast-paced, as deep as a Facebook status update society.


A curtain opens in Revelation chapter four and gives us a glimpse into heaven.  Before the Lamb who was slain is revealed, the majestic living creatures and honored 24 elders are worshiping the Creator day and night.  What are they worshiping Him for?  His Creation.  From eternity past the elders cast down their crowns and cry out: “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”[ii]


There is a rhythm in heaven that can be heard faintly when we are up close to God’s creation.  We can almost feel the pulse of the elders’ praises when we find ourselves exploring this big green and blue world.  We all long for our breath to be taken away by something beautiful.


How long has it been since your breath was taken away?  Go outside and take a walk today.  Your television screen, computer monitor or wireless gadget won’t do the trick.  You’ve got to crunch some some green grass under your feet, feel a soft breeze in your face, or maybe glimpse a sunset to get to that place of breath-taking awakening.


Lord, we want to gaze on the beauty of Your creation.  Help us make space for this.  Awaken our souls today with all that You have created.  Worthy are You, our Lord and our God.


[i] From “They Stand Together: The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves,” Walter Hooper, editor, Collins, 1979


[ii] Revelation 4:11, NASB