The swallows had started another nest late. We were told their previous young had somehow fallen from the nest and died. The nest was inside the porch, high up in a dark corner, stuck to the wall, white and black speckled dung on the tiles below. At night you could peep through a glass panel in the front door – looking out and up to see the two swallows sleeping, facing each other, perched on the nest’s rim with their bald-headed babies just visible in the mud-formed half cup between them.
We were staying in the southern Oregon mountains. I was in the habit of sitting quietly on the deck looking and listening with no purpose but the joy of it, and perhaps to re-discover an ineffable brightness that thinking and busyness overshadows. The house was situated on the side of a protected mountain meadow, a free space for all the animals native to this habitat. On any given day you could see white tailed deer, and ground squirrels standing on their hind legs reaching up to pull down and nibble the golden flowers of dried thistles. There were wild turkeys, herds of elk and in the early mornings groups of coyotes playing.
The grasses were swept over in a swirling pattern from wind blowing in from the northern end of the valley. They were a mix of colors that distilled the essence and joy of late summer: coral pink, pale gold and copper stems and flowers mixed with bright mid-green thistle and equisetum stems. That particular smell of the meadow in the early morning dew bought the delight of it into the nose and lungs, and along with all the sounds and visual richness life touched life through the human heart.
Before sunrise the two swallows would fly in unison slowly in warm-up fashion, about four feet apart, back and forth over the meadow in the soft light, calling and answering each other. After a while they would part, circling, rising and dipping, catching invisible insects, all within half a mile or so from their nest and young. They did this ceaselessly until dusk. Their fast sweeping flying and high-pitched calls seemed the embodiment of joyful function.
One day storm clouds gradually darkened the sky with downward hanging wild and feathered torn edges, turbulent, dark waves, bright patches, and smooth grey blue glowing expanses. From high up a large flock of swallows tumbled into the valley, darting around catching insects and after a while slowly peeling off southward. The two nesting birds disappeared into the flock, and I wondered if they had become lost in the powerful south cascading zeitgeist of their fellows, but later they appeared around the house again, diligent parents for now.
It seems at times that just looking and listening with a contemplative wideness that gathers all the senses into one coherent fullness, free as the sky and wind, not parceled out by any cultural narrowing down toward some future utility, either ancient, contemporary or pre-industrial – it seems this very simplicity carries within itself, in its very nature, kindness and care in all directions including one’s own life. Testament to a quiet revolution that in any time or place can be found within the human heart, a field of feeling in no way separate from the whole of Nature.
Embedded in its very fabric, in light, sound, and gravity, despite an abundance of disease, decay and suffering. If it weren’t for such glimpses of awakening life the impossible would not appear and the world would be enclosed, secure in its fleeting respites, compensations, its busyness racing just ahead of the jaws of time.