Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Yesterday in our morning walk we turned a sharp bend in the road and walked into a cloud of fledgling barn swallows and their proud parents. The road passed beneath a highway bridge over one of the mountain's many small rivers, and up beneath the ferroconcrete and I-beam abutments were dozens of new clay nests that had been built upon the old ones.

On many of the nest edges teetered fledgling swallows who were just barely beginning to think of daring to enter the big mystery out there that they'd been only glimpsing over the nest edge these past months; now here they were standing uncertainly on the nest edge itself, preparing to leap into the mystery at the loud urging of their parents and all the fledglings who were already out there, suspended on nothing!

The wind vortex formed by this funneling of the down-mountain morning breezes was filled with formally dressed elder swallows urging the young ones to enter the air. And who thus built to receive it could resist such an invitation? Imagine being that tiny - a mere whisper of nerves and feathers - and looking out upon that unfamiliar vastness: what a world of trust they had to summon, in order to leap! The excitement filled the air.

From where they stood teetering - gripping the thin nest edges with uncertain feet - one by one, to the cheering of their parents and fellow flyers, they leaped free in elemental confidence and found themselves not falling, but flying! What delight quivered then in those tiny bodies!

We who stood below on earthbound feet could nevertheless share in the sheer natural glee that swirled up there in those newly airborne creatures realizing their powers: how they loved it; what a change this was for them! After being cooped up in those constricting nests for months, here they were climbing, diving, spiraling and chattering feverishly, becoming better aeronauts by the minute.

Their still-new flying muscles, though, were not yet strong; they had to rest for a few seconds now and then. They did their resting not on the stodgy flat places their parents used but on the most fun places: the slanting areas of concrete, where gravity slid them slowly to the edge and forced them fearfully to fly again - much like people kids on steep sliding boards.

Among the fledglings, the parents were discernable not so much for their size (they weren't that much larger) but for their aerodynamic expertise, stamina and practicality of flight, as well as their comparative lack of jubilation at the astonishing act they were performing. But they sure did enjoy watching the kids earn their wings.

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