Sunday, April 21, 2002


Every Spring, with no deeds or Japanese bureaucratic permits at all, the swallows build their nests above the doorways of houses and shops in the village, and homeowners and shopkeepers in a very pleasant spirit of community tenderness create ingeniously ad hoc structures of newspapers and magazines and plastic bags and bits of wood and cardboard and string and tape to catch the droppings, keep their doorsteps and wares clean, and soon the nests, just above head level, are home to eggs, and not long after come the tiny cheeps from bright yellow bigmouth beaks poking over the nest sides, and people-neighbors gather beneath for oohs and ahhs that lead to chats about the goings on in their own nests; and the adult swallows, of evenings after whirling the curlicues of their airy calligraphy of catching insects to feed the swelling brood, and soon having been put out of tiny house and home by the size of the kids, sit near their nests on a convenient awning rod or a telephone wire, soft little featherbundles calm even though within easy reach of shoppers and homeowners passing by beneath, and severely tempting kids to grab for them but the kids always find the wherewithal within themselves not to, for the tiny birds mean so much more where they are, sitting up there so proudly in their fine white ties and tails, about them a confidence and majesty that simply cannot be treated lightly, they are grace in every aspect; and even male teenagers, who in the itchy clutch of hormonal chaos are tempted to scare the tiny creatures very satisfyingly into flight, nevertheless never do, the swallows in return for such restraint giving the teenagers the priceless life lesson that grace, not size, is what really matters, and so the neighborhood kids are educated by the swallows in essential regards, and then one morning the adult birds take their own gawky teenagers to a nearby overhead wire, where the grownups sit like the people-parents in the park, taking what ease they can at last while cheerily prompting the kids to fidget and whir, whiffle their wings, learn to leap and flap and dive and climb and back and again and again, swooping over and over like people-kids on swings and sliding boards all day, until finally one evening the fledglings are soaring too through the summer sunsets, feeding themselves for autumn, and so the flocks both bird and folk are winged from day to day and year to year, and every village neighborhood is lifted to heights that once known are not forgotten, even in the swallow-empty airs of winter.