On Swallows

A late summer evening. The sun like a cheap drunk is sliding off of its high stool. The air has cooled and the vault of the sky hinting of a more cosmic realm, Venus in there trying to sprout.

She and I are sitting on our evening porch, which isn’t on the porch at all but 40 acres back, this is our summer evening porch. Not a porch as a crude bench of discarded planks slapped together by used spikes reworked to pound in straight, sorta straight. I cannot bring myself to throw away nails especially the big hummers each with a quarter pound of good iron. Spikes of the kind found in old barns, granaries, machine sheds, saved for such quick carpentry as is our summer evening porch. The bench on the flank of a field swale that was always darn problematic when it came spring. It is that tractors can’t swim, but can dig a grave. Eventually we gave up trying to plant that swale, years later I dug it out entirely. Gave it back the pond of a previous epoch. A small reflector it is, this little mirror, chilly water, slightly tannic from tamarack that drowned.

I raise swallows as professionally as I raise potatoes, same for sweet corn and soy. It is this bird, the swallow that in my opinion divides the blue states from the red. Not the query whether we are Republican or Democrat but whether pro-swallow or anti. In the farm sector the chances about equal either way, each with its own cause. The standard indictment against swallows being they are dirty birds, leaving in their wake the mark of their trespass. In my opinion, if it washes off and if the wash water does the apple orchard a favor it isn’t trespass. I will note here swallows do not defecate in their water supply like some species I could mention. What constitutes rudeness is I think open to debate.

I am a child of sawyers, mill slabs in surplus either to burn or spend on birdhouses if occasionally tree houses. So it is the farm lanes are filled with birdhouses. Tree swallows mostly, a few bluebirds. Likeable enough are bluebirds, privately I prefer the swallows. As for their cousins, my barns and sheds suffice, with rafters and eaves as famous as the Anasazi with cliff dwellings. Since I was that child I have favored swallows because they are the most architectural of birds with their own adobe. Some only dare shelves, some are karns, others neat kivas, complete I hope with a secret oath.

On some evening in August when the fledglings have taken root to their real earth, that when she and I go to our evening porch. It is our appetizer on this mellow eve to watch swallows from the pond bench. Married 40 years you know, I assure you she more the idiot for choosing me, a farm boy, a tater patch farm at that. But we have our moments, the far porch on a swallow evening is one.

Hundreds now. Of swallows. A proper farmer will boast of his corn crop, 200 bushel at least, or beans running ten ton. I’d rather boast of swallows. Being mindful swallows are a matter of red and blue, politics I mean, I shall keep my peace. Still I am proud of the numbers that rouse this night over the cornfield, a mass of them as real as hundredweight of potatoes. In my private opinion, as nourishing to this planet as bushels of potatoes. They thicken the atmosphere by an effervescent percent, they rise and fly in such swarm the planet surely gains momentum, the spin on the axis noticeably quickened, the moon’s recession incrementally slowed, the comets are altered, our star’s wind is swirled. Because swallows bewitch the convening dark, their flight slightly tilting the cosmos and beyond. This I hold the spell and the wonderment of swallows.

Justin Isherwood is an award-winning writer, a Wisconsin farmer, humorist, author and contributor to numerous collections and publications including: Badger CommonTater, Isthmus, and Newsday. He is an essayist for the radio program, BookMarks & Art, airing on a CBS affiliate in central Wisconsin. His books include: Christmas Stones & the Story Chair, Book of Plough, and most recently, Farm Kid.