* indicates required

Only in a Place Like Idaho

Published online: Apr 26, 2021 Articles, East Idaho Outdoors Linden B. Bateman
Viewed 5639 time(s)

Living anywhere in Idaho one can frequently experience surprising and delightful encounters with wildlife. I remember, for example, seeing a huge bull elk running near the freeway as former Lt. Governor David Leroy and I recently drove into Boise. Another time I was amazed to see an American bald eagle flying within view of the State Capitol Building. The largest concentration of birds of prey in the world can be found in deep canyons along the Snake River within a half hour drive from Boise.

It is by wild swans, however, that I have been most startled and overcome with awe—magnificent birds not quite of this world. My reverence for swans began as a child with my mother’s vivid narration of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale “The Ugly Duckling.” I was more surprised than the ugly duckling himself upon discovering his true identity; his comic image transformed into a dazzling white swan, the most beautiful on the lake.

As a young man residing in Germany for several years, I was inspired by the large numbers of swans in that country, especially in the province of Schleswig-Holstein bordering Denmark.  Wild swans glide over cities and towns landing in rivers, lakes and parks, and without fear upon village ponds surrounded by people. During storms, large flocks sometimes soar very low over marshlands and meadows.

It was, however, a surreal encounter with trumpeter swans on the shores of Henry’s Lake in southeastern Idaho 54 years ago that was to become the defining wilderness experience of my life. That event actually began in the late fall of 1966 with my best friend, Gary Shults, on a fishing trip to the rocky south shore of the lake. It was my best fishing trip ever. We caught and released 4- and 5-pound trout all day long before deciding to take four fish home. That included one 10 pound and another 7 ½ pound. All were photographed to prove it wasn’t a fish story!

The following year we decided to repeat the experience on a Wednesday in late October. At the last minute Gary had to cancel, so I went alone. I arrived at the lake near daybreak, as light snow began to fall, expecting to improve upon last year’s catch, only to sit on the lake shore until dark without getting a single bite. Initially disappointed by the stark contrast with last years’ success, the day gradually unfolded into one of the most beautiful of my life.

A lakeshore was spread out before me, isolated and insulated by vast reaches of forest and light falling snow. I saw no other person on the lake that day. Silence was immense, hour upon hour, pierced only by the lapping of the waves at my feet or by the fleeting sounds of small lake birds. The hours passed; the sound of the waves put me into a peaceful trance. There was no wind. Nor was it very cold. 

Then in the late afternoon, faint wistful distant cries reached my ears, gradually becoming more distinct. What was it? Suddenly, out of the clouds, trumpeter swans appeared flying very low directly over me, 7 or 8 dream-like ghostly forms gliding in pristine majesty and then slowly rising back into the clouds and vanishing, followed by their fading, haunting, primeval cries. 

Then once again only the waves, the snow and silence. 

Darkness finally fell upon the lake shore covered with white velvet. So different from what is normally seen and felt and heard, it was a dream within a dream; the most wonderful wilderness adventure of my life. Only in a place like Idaho could one have such an experience.

I was moved beyond measure recently by an article in BBC History Revealed which inspired me to write this article. The essay tells about the grave of a small Danish girl buried 6,000 years ago, whose body was placed upon the wing of a swan. Something more convenient could have been found to lay her body upon, but the image of her being borne upon the wings of a swan to some heavenly place may have been the compelling faith of those who loved her 6,000 years ago.

If God had created no other creatures than a swan, that creation alone would be sufficient evidence that God exists. 


Send to your friends!

  • Like what you read?

    Get Idaho Falls Magazine straight to your door!

  • Subscribe Today!

    Sign Up