Black Swallows (swift, dialect)

Somewhere up here are three or so newly-arrived swifts, tilting and banking as they feed in the sun. They are lost in this image but I know they are there. 

I first heard them yesterday - and then saw them later that day. They were calling, their wheeling cries singing of their presence. 

Every year I feel gratitude and protectiveness when they return, and I am startled. I am glad for them that it is warm and dry. All this is me projecting my concerns onto them, of course. They are hardy, fearsome things and thrive in the Scottish Borders where it is far colder and wetter (and midgier). But there is something about these black swallows that epitomises nature at its frailest and most beautiful. Perhaps because they travel so far (in our terms) to be here. And the way they return at the same time (our time, not theirs). What is it that impels them to  fly thousands of miles to breed here? We cannot know.  It almost feels like something is given to us when we see them.


Some people find swifts combative and compare them to fighter jets. For me, it is different. they are poised and air-strung and serene. And always hungry. 


Forgive me for the self-regard  - I wrote this blog entry four years ago, on May 9th.  Perhaps my joy at their presence is also part of me returning each May too. Likewise, when they leave in August there is a sense of loss. 


The swifts are back in Bexley, like summer's conscience.

I hear the streamers of their sound over roofs and roads, before I see their shapes.

The sound is familiar and strange, it lifts something in me that is old and joyful,
laid down when I was a child.

But I worry for them, these 'frail, travelling coincidences' as Larkin said once, about something else.


Around the time I took this picture, someone I knew died. (This transpired later).  I know now that the arrival of the swifts will always make me think of her, air-born.


Popular Posts