Soon after Peter Benchley and Steven Spielberg launched the hydraulic shark that set the stage for Ted Kennedy’s moonlight swim, Martha’s Vineyard, aka Amity Island faced a hostile takeover by real monsters. Their predatory reach rivaled a Velociraptor, with attitude and table manners to match. Having killed off many native animals ,they turned to terrorizing small children, breaking the bones of one.
Within a few years they owned the place. At the invasion’s peak, they formed salt pond flotillas outweighing a T.Rex. Nothing escaped the contempt of those dreadnaught English swans .The alpha males grabbed mallards by the head, and with a serpentine flick , whipped the feckless ducks clear out of the water.
Avian flu was unheard of in 1979, but local game wardens decided to roll out the unwelcome mat anyway. It was informally agreed that uninvited swan deserved honorary vermin status once the summer people departed along with the Secret Service. For each fall, the Vineyard reverts to what it was when Mathew Gosnold discovered the Wampanoag vacationing there in 1602: a happy hunting ground.
What drove Euroswans flocking across The Pond and into a hail of ought-four shot a generation ago? Some strange resonance with the simultaneous Eurotrash migration? No matter- 10-Guage goose guns convinced most to get out of Dodge and head for the Hamptons pronto. It wasn’t pretty. Thank God for Harry Worthington Cheney was not loaded for swan. As worn by its original owner, a swan’s down vest sheds quail shot like Kevlar, yet few hunters bother to reload. Grain-fed, the great white birds were a medieval delicacy. But you are what you eat. Gosnold soon discovered that feral swans favorite fare is the bottom of a pond, and they taste accordingly.
The invaders took a licking, but repeated inoculation with birdshot failed to stem the plague. Thick as bricks and dumb as their dinosaur forebears,Euroswans soon swarmed Edgartown harbor and Menemsha Pond like sailboats on the 4th of July, to beget a new generation of dual citizenship cygnets to be indelibly imprinted with America as the next stop after Iceland and Goose Bay. Come next Memorial Day, they’ll be back-with unwanted baggage.
This year we dodged Asia's lethal avian flu. Only one of th sick birds that alighted Thames-side in January delivered its swan song in Minnesota this August. Not one was seen on the East Coast , but next year , once again thousands of vacationers, human and canine, will come to swan around shores shores that have already spread Lyme disease coast to coast with returning pets as the vectorsand many a PETA member among the victims. But why worry when doomed pet starfish and golden retrievers don’t carry avian flu, and cygnets are hard to get through airport security?
Dream on-swans don’t go home on Labor Day, they just move south . Whether the Vineyard , Texas, or Maryland’s Eastern Shore shooting is a contact sport for men and dogs alike. So is fishing. Bits of mechanical shark, pyrotechnic souvenirs of Spielberg’s many takes, still decorate swan nests in the Menemsha reeds, along with uncountable salt water wet flies and rods chucked by liability shy Robert Redford wannabes fearful of catching an eyeball in a casting frenzy.
The horrifying reality of Vineyard marine biology is that you are likelier to be swallowed like Jonah than land a legal striped bass in a week of plug casting at the nearest beach. Surfers likewise worry mostly about submerged boulders. Apart from a diminutive baby sand shark taking an unseemly interest in the author’s big toe as he waded awaiting a ferry, his only real shock from a triangular fin in Vineyard waters was 200 volts from a pizza-pan sized torpedo disturbed at dead low tide in Menemsha.
He has a lady witness to that electrifying fish story. Unlike the hydraulic monster that rules the nation’s collective nightmares, the electric ray was real as the great white waterfowl gliding in the background After many a summer dies the swan, but Peter Benchley did not make it through last winter. He knew more than he let on about natural history. Seeing a vee of white winging into Menemsha next spring, even a scary movie writer might be very afraid.
copyight 2006 Russell Seitz