They flew from the barn across the fields to the edge of the woods, and back. I paused to notice their small, agile and forked bodies because they were touched with a brilliant peach color across their chests. And I learned that these birds were notable migrants, traveling long distances for their small size, but also, and this is the part I have never forgotten, the part that recalls them to mind periodically ever since: The barn swallow makes its home in man-made structures. And this seems to be a truth told by these tiny birds. This beautiful peach color marked, like a tag, this clue. Marked as a reminder: “makes its home in man-made structures.” Following this clue for these years, the story is not yet uncovered. It is said: “For as one swallow or one day does not make a spring, so one day or a short time does not make a fortunate or happy man.” As one clue does not solve the mystery, but every clue is painted peach to show the way.
The swallow makes its home in man-made structures near open fields and meadows. Protection, on the one hand, and also open spaces, to see the nature of that protection. The cost perhaps. The cup shaped nests sit provisionally within barns and stables. From far away one might not see a nest pressed up into the eaves, mistaking it for part of the structure or unaware of its presence altogether. These nests, temporary next to their superstructure, protect the young from elements and predators. They are allowed to be born and to grow. They are a language to rest inside. They are a camouflage. They are an etiquette for dissembling. This is home economics: housewifery.
A swallows nest just stable enough for our babies without betraying our nature: provisional, fragile, curious, migratory. Cupped nests, constructed more often by the female, hiding inside, masquerading, incubating.
An unmated barn swallow may kill the nestlings of a nesting pair; these actions often succeed in breaking up the pair and affording him the opportunity to mate. These nestlings look like gardens and furniture and dogs and jobs and ideas and stories and memories and friends. The barn swallow may be the most common bird of all.
It is said that desecrating or destroying a swallows nest might lead to cows giving bloody milk, or no milk at all, or to hens ceasing to lay. It is said: “When will I be like the swallow, so that I can stop being silent?” It is said: “True hope is swift, and flies with swallow’s wings.”