Barn Swallows Redux

Psalm 84. “The swallow (has found) a nest where she may lay her young.”

Not far along Route 8, where the land slopes into a marsh and beavers constantly rebuild their dam, a ramshackle barn with peeling brown paint shelters an ancient black Model T. No one knows who is older, the barn, the Model T, or its owner, a grisly farmer bringing in the hay who shakes his head in feigned disgust.

“They’re here again. The barn swallows!” And indeed they were, those harbingers of summer no more than 6 inches in length with steel blue bodies, white undersides and a chestnut beak. The farmer estimated that he had witnessed at least a half dozen generations of swallows that chose his barn to mate and leave their droppings on the hood of the Model T — an abstract painting of white spots on black.

Over the years the farmer considered closing the doors of the barn to deny the birds entry but in the final moments, while debating putting up a sign “No Entry,” the parents would fly in, swipe bits of hay from the tractor, seal the pieces with mud and, literally overnight, construct the nest. No one else in the Adirondack Mountains can build a home as quickly as the barn swallows.

And, each year, the farmer vowed he would close the barn doors in early spring before the mating couple arrived. But, although a seemingly gruff old man, the farmer only chuckled and explained to those who would listen: “I can’t do it. The same pair every year!” While he spoke I remembered the quote of St. Exupery, “One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.” My neighbor, this farmer born and raised on the plot of land he shared with the swallows, saw with his heart, and the birds, intuiting his tender nature beneath a tough exterior, returned year after year.

However, in recent years the farmer decided on a compromise with the swallows. In spring he lowered the barn door part way until only a small space existed between the bottom plank of wood and the concrete floor. Perhaps, he reasoned, the swallows would leave of their own accord, relieving the farmer of any guilt attached to an eviction notice. In my most recent conversation with the farmer he had secured the door only 4 inches above the ground.

Still, the swallows entered, and one morning the farmer spied the familiar nest and the first patches on the top of his antique car. The man responded with his customary curse but I believe that secretly he admired those swallows, willing to take advantage of even the smallest openings in life.

Did they intuit that most doors to the future are never fully closed?


Brant Lake

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