Swan songs 1983-2018
Like many places in the world, our region has a long tradition of hunting. The aristocracy in Europe took this ancient subsistence practice to new heights of sport, which recently has become a big business in our rural region. (Most EU countries do not allow open shooting anymore). Locals started 'planting ducks' in our little lake in the spring to then sell tickets for sport hunters in the fall, who came from nearby Germany and Austria, paying huge fees to shoot for a day or two and dress up in extraordinary attire, recalling the old Hapsburg days. Although some the organizers of this business are my neighbors, we butted heads for three years when the shooting season would start, and random bullet shells rained down on our roof, in the courtyard, and forced us all inside from the fallout. Our animals suffered. The noise of the shooting was deafening. And the fallout left hundreds of plastic shells polluting the lake, floating next to the dead duck corpses. In 2018, the hunt had escalated to an uncontrollable level, with locals upset at the mayors of our region who allowed the hunting rights and the fisheries who sold permits to let it happen. Then a hunter, in a shooting frenzy one weekend, also shot two swans, who were frightened from the nest they were sitting on at the far end of one of the ponds. The outrage filled FB pages within hours, with over one thousand neighbors declaring their anger. The local mayor of that village, Mr. Baliček, who has vehemetly opposed such activity in our region, worked closely with the police and the State Environnmental Agency to make sure that there was justice for the pair of swans, who we know were the parents of a brood of six babies. Eventually, the hunter was fined the minimum 10,000 Czech crowns (less that 400 euro). The following weekend when the hunt was scheduled for "červenak", our lake at the Red Mill, I decided to create a memorial for the dead swans, during the hunting frenzy. Legally, I stood on my own property while painting the wall facing the lake. There were over 25 men with loaded shotguns, very unhappy with me being in their face. Holly took photos of me, which raised their ire, as they were in the background. Several local friends and family, including a pregnant woman, stood by and silently protested. I continued to paint. One of the hunters became aggressive and began to grab Tomaš, my friend and an artist-activist, by the neck. The manager of the hunting party told me to go inside or he would call the police. I replied I was on my property, go ahead. They did. The police came and made a report (this happens every year- they know me well). The hunting party ended early with several threats, in Czech and German towards us.
Since then, the hunting business has been cancelled at our pond. This spring, a family of seven young swans and their parents graced us with making their nest across the shores of červenak. Without the artificial duck farm, the water is cleaner than it has been in years. The summer of 2020, during a global pandemic, I swam with the swans each day.