Who am I to complain?
I used to hate barn swallows. I’d call ‘em darn swallows. Or darn barn swallows. Or worse, unprintable here.
They are diminutive, forked tail dune-buggy flyers who completely take over any barn and shed interiors from March through August, building their nests in the eaves, rafters and corners. Dozens of them, winging in sideways, straight ways, upside-down ways, any freaking ways they can fit through doors, windows, cracks — even a split in the clapboards. Their babies are insatiable demanders of food, uncompromising, screaming their infant chirps through the prism of hunger, always hunger — never-satisfied hunger — just ate, still hungry, still demanding more!
So what’s so bad? Aren’t they just another verse in the beautiful song of life: the young, feeding, nurturing, protecting, launching?
Well sure, but let’s not leave pooping out of the equation because that is a major issue. Poops everywhere: from the nests, from the rafters and while flying. Every surface, every car, every machine, every farm implement covered, spotted, speckled and cursed with drip castles of bird poop, one on top of the other, white on white on white on everything. Let’s not forget the floors, the walls or me! My farm wife thinks it is just about as funny as can be: a modern male getting rained on by flying poops in 2020 — completely old-fashioned problem in a thoroughly modern time. Deal with it. Ha ha, etc. It was my aim to accept it and see it as a test of patience, forbearance and sacrifice, but come on, one can only take so much. Especially when hit by an aerial assault on the hair or the cheek. Worse, any day now, I am expecting to be smacked in the face by a flying bird while I feed the animals in their stalls - the swallows barreling in, straight at my face and eyes, only to flip and just miss me by inches. I call it the face flying flinch and it is extremely alarming and irritating.
Even the pigs and Mr. Donkey can’t stand them, especially this time of year when the barn swallows are laying it on extra thick.
Iggy, the pink piggy, had a big white streak on her pink back the other morning and clearly blamed me from the look she gave. “Whaddya going to do about it?” she demanded. I looked up at the assembled nests and seriously considered The Big Move — a group revenge relocation project. They were within reach but somehow the whole enterprise seemed so . . . well . . . out of my jurisdiction. Beyond my rank. Did this exorbitant pooping really merit possible avicide if moving all the reachable nests — with their little upturned heads poking out - meant that maybe the parents would abandon them if I touched or changed the nests. What to do? The tractor and mowers threatened to go on strike if the pooping didn’t cease.
So I sat out in a farmyard chair, plotting my plan and planning my plot. But the barn swallows were out in force, in a huge performing flying circus. They were really quite remarkable flyers — light, immediately turnable right before crash impact, narrowly avoiding disaster, backflipping and swerving with their forked tails, competing for food. More amazing, I realized I had never seen one land on the ground. They did all their hunting in the sky, snatching bugs and insects out of the whirling blue, whizzing them home to open mouths and immediately back into the action. They essentially kept it up all day — in and out of the small spaces, averting, avoiding, u-turning, rotating — a triple axel here, a backflip piroette there — like aerial stunt snowboarders, they were nothing short of amazing. Amazing underdogs, trapped in their own behavior, until their little ones turn into their grown up selves. Then they can finally rest. Until next spring. Sigh. Fly on, feed on, poop on, little birds. Live and let live. I’ll keep ducking and buy tarps. We all have to — nay, even need to — bear some sacrifice in this world. Helps one’s karma, one supposes. There’s a giant whizzing ballet out there in the natural world. No timeouts for thin, irritable human sensibilities. Can’t be cranky when confronted by such rhythm, power and consistency. They are prisoners of their own rituals — their own delicate natural selection dances. Who isn’t? I used to hate barn swallows, but now I kinda have grown to like them.
Gloucester resident Gordon Baird is an actor and musician, co-founder of Musician magazine and producer of “The Chicken Shack” community access TV show.