Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Sign For Swallowing

by Robert Jevne
The swallows are gathering on the wires. I’m hoping, like last year, this is a sign they are about to leave. Where there were dozens, over the course of the spring and summer, and the building of their mud nests in the eaves of my house, and the brooding, the feeding, the fledging, now there are easily over a hundred. When they are not resting on the electrical wires leading from the road to my house, they are swooping, circling, stunting in an impressive display of unison flying and then as a swarming group, dive bombing the house en masse, miraculously screeching to a halt at the entrance to their little mud caves and then pooping. On my house. The roof is splattered. The sides of my house are streaked with it. As are the window screens, so that even when I am inside I am seeing the mess being made of the place I live. I’ve had a lot of time the last three weeks to watch the whole process unfold. And a lot of time to think about it. A lot of time. That the swallows are there at all is, in effect, a compromise between my wife and I. Early in the spring I set about spraying nests with water as they were being built in the hopes that the birds would find a better spot, like the barn for instance, as they are barn swallows. Granted the barn is a tin barn with no overhangs so I wasn’t really offering much of an option. “ Move on,” was pretty much the extent of my thinking. I’m not saying deterring the invasion was going to be easy but I was determined. “Every day a little spray” was my motto. “Every day its bombs away,” was theirs. It was me, alone, against all of them. My wife, noticing the futility of this effort thought I should leave things be this year, build some sort of alternative housing over the winter, and try again next year. “Besides, they eat a lot of mosquitoes,” she said. She was right about that, of course. I agreed to put it off. So here we are a couple of months later covered in do-do and not much we can do about it. Even I won’t kill swallow babies. Never-the-less I am plagued. Early in the morning when they are most active going back and forth from the field to my house as one, their sounds at my bedroom window amplified by the angle of the eave, the sounds invading my dreams. Wings fluttering, beating louder and louder, the splat, splat, splat of fresh droppings on the tin roof louder and louder, swallow chattering multiplied by their now infinite numbers turning to chuckling as though they are laughing at me louder and louder. In my dream I rise from my bed and stumble running outside to see my house disappearing beneath a mountain of droppings, a mountain of droppings taking on a shape. To my horror it is the shape of the state of Minnesota. I keep running, running past the chicken yard where a pile of their droppings is forming in the shape of the capitol building in Saint Paul, and finally I am running past the cows in the field where one of the cows turns to me and yells “You want a budget resolution? I’ll give you a budget resolution!” and begins to lift her tail.

I awoke in a cold sweat. The next morning I got the call to return to work. The day I returned the swallows were gone.

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