Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Swallows of Summer

A pair of swallows built their nest in the eaves above my garage in spring. I became aware of them in summer when their droppings began to stain the garage door and the driveway. Their comings and goings fascinated me and I felt no animosity toward them while cleaning up their mess.

One day my landscaper told me he could remove the nest with a powerful blast from a hose

"Oh no, I don't want want you to do that," I said, horrified at the prospect.

"You like cleaning poop?"

"well, I love birds, and if I have to clean their poop to enjoy them, I don't mind."

He looked at me strangely. The message was unmistakeable: Something was seriously wrong with me. We both laughed, however, and never talked about this anymore.

The swallows were a delight. Occasionally they would put on a show, particularly in the lingering dusk, wheeling and stitching the air with deft aerobics. Other swallows materialized and the flock would fly with sheer joy, rising, falling and rising again. Sweeping away the pair's detritus was the least I could do by way of thanks.

But now it is winter and my swallows are gone, lured by warmth somewhere in the south. The nest is empty but filled with memories of life lived with joy and freedom. Jibananda Das, a Bengali poet, compared the longing evoked by a bird's nest to the longing evoked by his lover as her sight alights on him. If you have never carefully looked at a nest, this metaphor will seem unconvincing to you. But of you have, love will stir in your heart as you recite the poet's "Banalata Sen."

It's raining today and a strong wind is blowing. The street is strewn with red and yellow leaves. They dance furiously in the wind, tracing blurry circles and ellipses, and then suddenly they race along the street in hundred-meter dashes. Some ravens flit from tree to tree. Suddenly the sun peeks from behind the clouds and just as suddenly, it is swallowed again, but not before I catch sight of a rainbow lighting up the green hills.

Will my swallows return in spring, not any pair but this pair? Probably not. Probably another pair will make the empty nest their own. I am ready to welcome them but the winter feels long and spring seems far away.

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