Life and Death in Swan Lagoon

Like the story of Swan Lake, the themes of good and evil dueled in the murky lagoon of San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Like the story of Swan Lake, the themes of good and evil dueled in the murky lagoon of San Francisco s Palace of Fine Arts. (Published Saturday, Jun 2, 2012)

    It had all the tragic elements of a first-rate mystery -- murder, disappearance, rejection and forbidden love. Like the story of Swan Lake, the themes of good and evil dueled in the murky lagoon of San Francisco’s stately Palace of Fine Arts.

    Rewind a couple years, the carcass of a dead swan was discovered on the banks of the palace’s lagoon. Longtime swan caretaker Judy Whilt was left heartbroken.

    "We had the one that was killed by that beer party group," said Whilt of the alleged perpetrators. "And they just broke her neck. It was a horrible thing."

    Whilt and fellow volunteer caretaker Gayle Hagerty helped secure a pair of replacement swans from a New York breeder for the lagoon. One of those swans, an amorous three-year old named Blue Boy began courting Blanche, the sister of the dead swan.

    "He fell in love with Blanche," said Whilt. "She’s an old cougar, she’s almost 16, and he’s three."

    Despite the age gap, the union produced a cygnet, as baby swans are known. But tragedy was once again lurking around the lagoon. An unknown predator, assumed to be a barn owl, snatched the youngster, leaving a heap of down as its murderous calling card.

    Then two weeks ago, the run of tragedy inevitably stepped aside for new life. Blue Boy and Blanche produced six baby swans. On Friday, the happy family skimmed the shoreline, dining on bread crumbs and whole wheat Cheerios showered on them by an adoring public.

    Neighbor Anne Woolway stood guard as her small children tossed breadcrumbs to the tiny swans jostling in the waters a short distance from shore.

    "To be able to see life keep getting reborn here, it’s a really cool thing," said Woolway. "And it’s great we get to bring our children -- and our children get to see this and form memories here."

    The swans have a legion of devoted neighbors keeping a watchful eye on them. This week they reported seeing men with nets and a white van, lurking around the lagoon.

    "We’re hoping that all six of the new cygnets are going to make it because they’re the icing on the cake here at the palace," said neighbor Susan Desaritz.

    San Francisco Park Police planned to step-up night patrols around the area, said acting park superintendent Virgina Aubry. Nearby homeowners also trained security cameras toward the lagoon.

    But the drama has at least another act. Whilt said it was unlikely all the juvenile swans would all remain in the lagoon. She said Blue Boy is likely to take exception with any males vying for his space, even if they are his own kin. She said the city may allow her to give some of the male cygnets to the breeder who supplied the parents.

    And so this plot continues to flesh out its path, hinting at another strange twist in a coming chapter -- or possibly heading for a darn good fairy tale ending afterall.