Ngawi, Wairarapa, New Zealand, 25th. Jan. 2011
By Phillip C @ http://www.flickr.com/photos/flissphil/5387357063/
The door opened to reveal a larger-than-life-size swan perched on a wharf before a bustling village. The swan had tiny human hands sticking out from its wingtips, and wore an intricately-knitted vest around its shoulders. It opened its beak and a tenor voice said, “Hi, everyone. Welcome to Swansdown. I’m Kyl Swan.” It – he – swept one wing in an arc behind him. “My brothers and sister and I founded the business.”
Others on the tour gasped, and someone said, “Surely you don’t mean that. You would be more than two centuries old!”
The swan nodded. “Quite a bit more, actually. We’re in our eight hundred ninetieth year as swans. Our stepmother cursed us when we were children. Let’s move on. Watch your step up the ramp.” He took flight and landed before a stock pen as we followed him up the rise on foot.
“Ah, you’re in luck,” he said. “It’s shearing season, and the work has just begun.” We watched for a few minutes as several young men caught, sheared, and released a bleating sheep.
“From here,” Kyl Swan told us over the racket, “the wool is washed, then carded and dyed. When we first began, my sister Neeve did all of that by hand. But more than two hundred years ago, we began offering positions to poor women from the mainland. It has worked out well for both parties. The women receive jobs and a healthy environment for raising their children. In exchange, we have been able to grow our business to the point where Swansdown knits are known everywhere for their warmth and high quality.”
He turned as a curious-looking woman approached. She was fully human except for her head and neck, which were that of a swan. She, too, wore a beautifully knitted garment – a dress – featuring colorful Swansdown designs. “Here’s Neevie now,” Kyl told us. “She will take you on the next portion of the tour.” He gestured grandly with a wing, his hand upturned toward the swan woman.
“Hello, everyone, and welcome,” Neeve Swan said in a sweet soprano voice as she gave Kyl a hug. “We’ll take a quick look at the carding operation before moving on to the spinning room. I won’t subject you to the dyeing – it’s quite a bit smellier than the sheep pen.” She spoke gravely, but some in the group laughed.
We followed Neeve past a building with a large window, where a huge drum covered with wire teeth rotated, combing the wool fibers into what Neeve called roving. The wool then passed along a conveyor belt to a neighboring building from which, even at a distance, a strong chemical smell emanated. Another conveyor belt took the dyed roving to a third building, where Neeve halted the group in front of another large window. We could see several women inside, hard at work at spinning wheels. At the far end, a woman sat before a huge loom, weaving cloth from some of the spun yarn. “Do you export the cloth?” someone asked.
Neeve shook her swan head. “Not really. We weave very little cloth, and most of it is used here on the island. Now over there” – she waved toward a fourth building – “is where the real magic
happens. That’s where our knitters turn the wool into sweaters, vests, hats, scarves, and socks – everything Swansdown is famous for.” She began walking toward the building as she said over her shoulder, “Watching someone else knit is about as interesting as watching grass grow, so we won’t stay long. Ah, Ken, join us. Ladies and gentlemen, my brother Kennet.” She waved to a short man who waddled toward the group. He, too, had the head and neck of a swan, and his lower torso, legs, and feet had been transformed as well.
“Pleased to meet you,” Kennet said in a rich baritone. He patted Neeve’s shoulder and turned to our group. “Right, then, this way to the knitting shed. Then onto the carriages and to your lodgings. Our brother Corwin will meet you there after lunch for a tour of the amphitheater. Tomorrow, you’ll be at your leisure. I might suggest an expedition to the caves on the other side of the island. Yes?” he said, as a hand rose.
“Is it true what your brother said?” the owner of that hand asked. “You’re all really eight hundred ninety years old?”
The Swans exchanged looks. “It is,” Neeve confirmed. “And the curse has another ten years to run.”
“What happens then?” the questioner persisted.
“We don’t know,” Kennet said. “Enjoy your stay on Swansdown, and don’t forget to pick up your free pair of mittens on your way home.”
Where to buy SwanSong: Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/SwanSong-ebook/dp/B005JKRN60
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/swansong-lynne-cantwell/1105160552?ean=2940011471193&format=nook-book
Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. Lynne’s vast overeducation includes a journalism degree from Indiana University, a master’s degree in fiction writing from Johns Hopkins University, and a paralegal certificate. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Visit her blog: http://hearth-myth.blogspot.com.
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