In my second summer living in France a pair of opportunistic swallows moved into my woodshed one day when the door had been left open. Within a matter of a month or so one nest had become three and I was delightfully entertained by, I estimate, three clutches fledging, feeding and singing their hearts out in my courtyard. By the end of the summer I counted 36 birds one sunny morning, preening their feathers and holding company in the trees and on the telephone wire in front of my home. I could see their comings and goings through my kitchen window and spent rather longer than I should have done taking it all in. As the autumn days became cooler, I was moved how the whole colony pulled together, every bird bringing food to quickly strengthen the last chicks before their great flight back south.
One sunny Monday morning, as I wrote out on the patio, I watched other colonies join mine on the wire looping across my small valley. 20, 30, 50 and then I couldn’t keep count anymore as they gathered for their mass departure. The birds seemed to take it in turns to loop off the wire, fly around the valley and settle again. I wondered what was going on and which bird, or birds, would decide when to leave. Were they waiting for others to arrive? And if not what else were they delaying for? The noise from them was almost unbelievable and the activity electric. And then they were gone and there was silence.
You can imagine my delight when one morning two weeks ago a solitary swallow perched in my courtyard. ‘Welcome back!’ I called, a little bemused that it was on its own. Sure enough the next day it was joined by its mate and nest building began again in the woodshed. I had a small window cut into the top of the door, to let the birds in and keep the Siamese cat which had joined my household over the winter, out. I woefully underestimated her prowess in scaling sheer wooden surfaces…
The swallow who survived the feline visit, I think a female, suspended nest building and took up vigil on the wire outside. Other than short feeding forays she became a constant, noisy presence, calling for her mate, looking one way and the other. It was sad to witness and I marvelled at her patience and persistence. The strength of her call didn’t fade, she didn’t give up and fly away. Day after day she waited and I hoped that she would not be left alone.
Sure enough on day 5 there were two heartwarming, chattering silhouettes against the blue sky when I returned from some errands. And on the following morning another couple of pairs also joined them. With cat security measures enhanced the level of activity in and out of the shed is now quite intense and I have certainly given up any hope of retrieving any logs in the near future.
And whilst all this was going on France, as well as some other European countries, shifted into its third national ‘confinement’ as lockdown is called here. And although the UK is easing restrictions, many people are still separated from loved ones during times of illness, passing and hardship. The circumstances in which we find ourselves are truly painful. Being unable to say goodbye to elderly parents in their final weeks and days, grandparents being unable to hold a new grandchild, businesses built over a life-time failing and the social freedoms we depend on taken away. I don’t think I know anyone who isn’t touched in some way. It is tough, still.
I take heart from the determination, the hope and the trust of the single swallow. Like her I will keep my song strong, I will sit with patience and trust that reunion will come. And while I wait I will find joy as I observe creation in its most natural form, whilst keeping a very close eye on my small Siamese cat.
By Justin Featherstone mc,
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