“Henry and Henrietta Swan” glide along with their young family...

“Henry and Henrietta Swan” glide along with their young family on the creek near Mill Brook Park in South Valley Stream.
Credit: John Duffy

In 1955, my parents bought a house in South Valley Stream overlooking a tidal creek. My wife and I bought it from them in 2002 when they retired out east. I know it was hard for them to leave the creek. “Like being on vacation every day” my father would say.

On the opposite bank is a public walking path called Mill Brook Park. Lately we’ve been seeing a lot of swan tourists here in vacationland, stopping on their evening strolls to take pictures of Henry and Henrietta, the swans who are raising two beautiful, fluffy little cygnets.

Sometime in the 1980s, when the first mute swan couple arrived, my mother named them Henry and Henrietta, so we’ve called all their descendants by those names. Last spring, they built their nest under a bridge along the path, in an area engineered after Superstorm Sandy to be a spillway for flood water. And sure enough, an epic rainstorm flooded the nest, tossing the eggs into the surrounding marsh.

The next afternoon, people stood on the bridge watching the swans circling their nest, and wondering if anything could be done. Though I knew it was probably a lost cause, a young neighborhood environmentalist and I pulled on wading boots and tried to put the eggs back in the nest, but Henrietta hissed and charged at us. You don’t get into arguments with swans.

This spring, one swan went missing for a few weeks and the other was patrolling the creek alone. Since their comparative sizes are generally the only way to tell them apart, we assumed it was Henry keeping things under control while Henrietta was on a nest somewhere downstream. But we also feared that it could have been Henrietta worriedly pacing the creek after the sudden disappearance of her mate. You’d think we’d know by now not to get drawn into swan drama, but it’s hard not to.

We were delighted when our swans showed up with two baby cygnets, especially since this is likely our last year on the creek. We’re moving to Columbia County, trading in South Shore salt life for upstate mud life. Our son and other family members are there already. The house we bought four years ago in the little hamlet of Copake Falls, New York sits on a hill 850 feet above sea level. This fact was a major selling point for people who lived through Sandy.

Still, for the past four years, one or the other of us has said out loud, many times, “Sure wish we could take the creek with us.”

We’re OK with leaving our neighbor Valley Stream South High School, with its twice-daily parade of noisy car and foot traffic. Students walk the creek path to get to school, and while most are polite and respectful, there’s an occasional group of knucklehead boys who need to be told (in Long Island vernacular) not to throw rocks at wildlife.

On one recent afternoon, they were in the weeds below the path throwing rocks at the cygnets. Just as I went to get involved, Henry charged violently across the water at them, hell-bent on injuring them before they injured his family. Remember, you don’t get into arguments with swans, especially celebrity daddy swans.

And as much as we’ll miss them, I know now that Henry and Henrietta have got this. They’ll be just fine without us.

Reader John Duffy lives in South Valley Stream.

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