A pair of barn swallows returned to our garage in the spring, rebuilt the nest on the garage door opener, and raised a brood of five which fledged June 30th. The fledglings returned to the nest for awhile, and then began spending their nights somewhere else. The parents quickly went to work to refurbish the nest and begin the process all over. August 2nd the new batch hatched—another five chicks! We can all gasp at how much work this is for those parents, daily catching enough bugs on the wing to feed themselves and their second brood of the season. But it’s pay-back time: the June chicks, now full-sized barn swallows at two months of age, are pitching in. In and out, in and out, all day and evening long, the two parents and brood of teenagers feed and clean up after the new brood of babies.
Everyone is in a hurry—in a few weeks they all need to join the fall migration to somewhere in South America. All of them! Including this mess of barely birds!
I’m out of breath just writing about it.
My home state of Iowa is one of America’s “fly over” states—places people fly over in order to get from one place to another. However, I was recently on that prairie again, and it is a soul-stirring experience. The land rolls, the horizon is 360 degrees. That great dome of sky is tremendous, magnificent, wild. It makes my heart sing to stand within it.
In the spring a pair of geese started hanging around in our pasture. Weeks later three fluffy goslings appeared with them. The family spent most of the time together on the pond, at least twice daily making their way through the cattails, over the bank, and down the hill to graze their way through the pasture grasses. One of the parents is the sentry while the other feeds with the babies, then they trade. Now the babies are juveniles, approaching the size of their parents and beginning to fly rather than walk to and from the pond—but they still peep like babies.
than a calla lily’s elegant…
Recently I was in Lyon, France, and got to stay in the lovely apartment of a friend in the old part of the city. The ground floor was built in the Middle Ages; consecutive floors were built during the Renaissance. The stones surrounding the doors and windows bear the identifying mark of the stone cutter. Hundreds of years of human history amidst these walls; thousands of years more are layered beneath them.
I painted this tiny sketch of the view from the kitchen (fifth floor), and left it with the key.
The migratory birds have joined the year-round residents, and the air is just zooming with bird busy-ness—courting rituals, nest-building, voracious feeding. And the songs! Cooing, burbling, chirping, chipping, liquid trilling, honking, quacking. All you in the northern hemisphere, go outside to watch and listen!
This is the week of the paschal moon, the first full moon following the spring equinox. Its brilliance startled me, shining through the stark branches of a snag. The tree may be dead, but it is full of life nonetheless. Easter is coming.
I like what Claude Monet accomplished in his paintings of snow, so I decided to spend some time with his “Effete de Neige à Giverny.” The painting is in our art museum now—a wonderful opportunity for me to study it. Gray-white, blue-white, lavender-white, white-white.
Then I came home and began to paint this copy of it. Slowly, quietly, just barely brushing any color onto the paper. Like snow falling.
Of course I don’t claim this painting as my own. The point is to learn from another painter, and this is one of the best ways. As I painted I felt the cold, and the lack of central heating in that farm house (where the inhabitants do not feel the lack, because no such thing exists yet). I trudged into that grove of trees beyond the buildings, I shoveled snow to get into the barn.
Right after I painted this, we got more snow at one time than I have ever experienced in my 40 years in this coastal climate. It looked like this. Trees broke under the weight of the sodden snow, power lines ruptured, people were without electricity for days.
I apologize. I only wanted to follow Monet through the snow!
My days have been consumed in care-giving. Seeing a loved one struggle is just so hard. Worry gnaws, weariness wears.
I dragged myself out for a walk by the pond. I stopped when I saw a Great Blue Heron hunkered on a log. Shortly the bird straightened up—I thought it was going to leave because of me—then it took wing, but flew low, dragging its feet in the water’s surface and plowing with its great open bill until it snatched the frog it had spotted. The heron wheeled up into the air in one fluid arc, the frog kicking in protest as it was carried right into a sky it had never experienced in its earth-bound life.
I was gobsmacked.
Never before had I seen a heron actually catch something. I had expected its quarry to be a fish; seeing the kicking legs that looked all too human, I felt a sudden despair for the frog that I wouldn’t have felt for a fish. Herons have long been a favorite of mine—their elegance in flight always takes my breath away. But this glimpse of life in the act of living was too close to what was in my days, that near possibility of a loved one making an ascension away from all of us.
Poet Mary Oliver recently made that ascent herself. Perhaps it is as she wrote, “the secret name of every death is life again.”
Peace on earth, good will.