When They Come Back
I remember visiting California as a child and my parents took our clump of siblings to San Juan Capistrano. My mother told us about the song, which, to this day, I’ve still never heard, and I failed to see what was significant about the swallows coming back to the old Spanish site. As an adult, I lived in locations where the geese came and went every year, so it’s not terribly surprising that swallows did the same. Despite my love of history, I never studied the details of the mission’s creation, development, and place in SoCal’s growth. Of course, the details are more readily available today than when I first visited the location. Thanks, Google.
My recollection of the Mission San Juan Capistrano includes a complete lack of ability by the swallows to eat bird seed from my hand. Of course, I may have been an impatient child and not inclined to wait for them to come eat out of my hand. I may also have confused this memory with another recollection of pigeons at a completely different location, so there’s that. I don’t recall seeing their nests, or watching them fly, or even have an estimation of the size of the swallows. Besides my overall absence of ornithological know-how, my childhood level of entertainment and engagement lacked an enthusiasm for watching birds. At the age of six, or eight, or nine – or whatever age I may have been – I didn’t care about the swallows. I didn’t notice swallows. I didn’t remember the swallows.
The drive along Interstate 29 reminds me of what the open prairie may have resembled when the American bison roamed unencumbered (see North Dakota On A Napkin from November 2011). The entire drive fills my long summer day with views that rival my first trek across South Dakota (see Rapid City, Rapid Change from November 2011), except this time I’m tackling the north-south crossing rather than the Interstate 90 west-to-east route. I’ll admit that interstates lack the versatility and insight of smaller routes as illustrated by my most previous post, but my destination this day allows me to check another state off the Project Fifty list. This drive isn’t about sightseeing, but about the end point, or on this drive, the midpoint as I am planning to double back as part of the excursion.
Once north of Waterton, I find myself alone – not that other passengers are in the car keeping me company, but the northeastern corner of the state reveals itself to be bleakly populated. The only company I see along my route are the swallows living under the overpasses where county roads span the interstate. They dive from heights and swoop into the narrow spaces between the concrete beams supporting the roadways. They fly distances and return to their nests easily identifying one crossroad from the next. They delight in the warmth and length of the summer day as I do. I don’t wonder about where they are in the winter, and when they return to these overpasses. I see their sharp shape and their fleeting flight and am thankful for their presence here and now.