One swallow does not a summer make
May 10, 2017
Posted in View from the table
I drove cross country the other day to stay with a friend for the weekend, I’d left way later than I’d planned; if you know me that will come as no surprise, lateness. It was such a beautiful day, the sun was low but not yet setting. That time when everyone looks so good in photographs, skin glows golden, like a real time, real life, retro filter. You know that time. I drove winding roads flanked with neon yellow rapeseed, each turn opening up to big skies, velvet green hills and those flower-filled fields. I was a bit lost, if you know me that won’t come as a surprise either, terrible direction. Never mind. I had to pull over because it was just so very beautiful. The music was just, you know, right. One of those moments that creeps up on you and reminds you that you’re alive and that life is so very beautiful. Sometimes. Two little black bullets in the sky caught my eye, two swallows on the wing, darting and swooping. The first I’d seen this year.
Swallows are the most amazing birds, the ones we see here in the summer overwinter in South Africa then they fly back here to their barns and outbuildings in April and May. That journey is 6,200 miles, and it takes them four weeks. OK that’s pretty incredible but add in to the mix the fact that they don’t glide, their wings are too small, so they flap ALL THE WAY. For 6,200 miles. It’s perilous and many don’t survive the journey, falling prey to exhaustion, storms and other bad weather, starvation and fucking humans in Malta who flock there – numbers reaching upwards of 10,500 – to participate in their annual shoot-fest of migratory birds who’s paths cross the island. There’s a special corner of hell reserved for those fuckers.
When, and if, they make it back, barn swallows locate their original nests and refurbish and fix them up, some nests have been in use for over 50 years. I love these birds, they sound like tiny dolphins squeaking and clicking on the telephone wires they congregate on to shoot the breeze at the end of the day. They feed their young around 400 times a day (as do I) and if you find a good place where they hang out – near water is good, where the air is alive with flying insects, go early in the morning or at dusk and just stand still for a minute, they will reward you with a display of their acrobatic aerial feats, darting so close to you, so fast, that you feel the swoosh of their wings against you, all around you, as they feed on the wing. Hold your nerve, they won’t crash into you, they’re too smart for that, I promise. It’s amazing, exhilarating, a privilege to be so close amongst them, it will take your breath away.
Sitting there in my car, on the way somewhere to where I love and am loved (and where dinner was ready and the wine open) catching sight of the first swallows this year, just doing their thing, made me feel so ridiculously happy. I’ve searched for that feeling my whole life; legally and illegally. Sometimes it just surprises you, when you’re late and a bit lost and not really looking for epiphanies. Reminding you of happier days in the sun when anything seemed possible. And something else. If those tiny little things can accomplish such an enormous feat then you, and I, can do pretty much anything, if we put a bit of heart and effort in.
One lone swallow does not a summer make, but perhaps two, perhaps a pair, does.