A year and more ago, I wrote here on Voice of the North of my concern for the swallow which appeared to return to our bit of Godzone each year – yet painfully on his own. I attributed its single status to the presence of a sad little corpse that I found on the floor of our pigsty, a little-used facility which houses the lawnmower in winter and, in summer (for several years until that small tragedy), a swallow’s nest.
Now, I lack the skill and knowledge to judge whether the deceased was a female, and whether her relict (if that’s what it is) is male. But it is true that, for several years, we’ve seen fewer swallows here, none taking advantage of our roomy pigsty, and always one solitary hirundinida(to use its Latin name) playing gooseberry as pairs assemble on the telephone wires.
I’ve formed a mental picture of this lone bird battling through storms on each migration to and from Southern Africa, always returning in spring and always, in my imagination, hoping to rediscover its mate – or else to find a new one.
And, hey, I need to concoct a story here! So I’ve arbitrarily assigned the male gender to my central character and, since we’ve seen many more swallows this year – adult and newly fledged – than in recent years, woven a metaphor about courage and perseverance.
I felt that these qualities – and, as far as I can tell, the bird’s ultimate triumph – deserved to be marked in some way and, for no good reason, reckoned it needed to be done in the arch and overblown style of a Victorian ballad. So please forgive the (consciously) painful and contrived verse, admire a swallow’s perseverance and, if you are so minded, raise a glass to “him” and to his achievement!
So pressed he on through storm and gale:
‘Gainst mighty tempest, rain and hail
He battled on, blown back and forth,
While e’er his compass pointed north.
Flew o’er those white cliffs, Albion’s shore,
Yet knew four hundred leagues and more
To God’s own county he must fight
Ere calling halt to arduous flight.
“But, bird, what ails thee? Has thine mate,
Not with thee, met some dire fate?”
Alas, my friend, ‘twas I who found
Her crumpled corpse upon the ground.
No more will those two swallows meet;
No longer bill, or coo, or tweet,
Nor build their nest in my pigsty,
Nor raise their young in turn to fly.
How many years his vigil filled
I know not: yet he proved strong-willed.
It seemed that he would never tire,
Perched, lonely, on my telephone wire.
Again, this year, I judged him lone,
Playing gooseberry, perched out on his own.
But then, things changed: within the sty
Not one, but two nests caught my eye.
I kept my distance: lurked about,
Watched parent birds dart in and out:
As summer passed their numbers grew
And swallow chicks first fledged, then flew.
Exuberantly now they fly.
With grace and dash they hurtle by;
They wheel and turn and skim and soar,
While I can only watch in awe.
“So did’st thou, swallow, find a mate?
A new spouse after your long wait?”
I know not, but he did survive:
His kin and progeny now thrive.
But two weeks hence, with heart in mouth,
I’ll see them start their journey south.
Six thousand miles: but I’ll be here
To greet their multitude next year.