Sunday, July 20, 2008
Early Morning Treasure
So I was leaving for work one morning a little before 5am and look what greeted me--besides the deer with their fawns. I know whomever it was that passed me as I stopped in the middle of the road (you know who you are!) thought I was off the deep end again, but I was just catching the moment.
Same moon, different exposures.
Several years ago our resident swallows decided not to return to the front porch. They had graced us with a nest over the front door for seven years in a row and the countless stories of baby swallows being hatched and growing up to fly away were something that made our home special. One year we had the house painted while they were gone for the winter and when they returned I suppose they didn't particularly like the color, even though it was the same as before, and built their wonderful nest elsewhere. So, it's been 3 long lonesome years with no swallow magic. Until this year.
The couple began their nest quite late in the season. The previous couples would have returned and built their nest by late April, early May. Here it was the middle of June and the nest was almost complete.
Several weeks later, a bazillion trips between the two parents to finish up the nest, and days and nights spent sitting in the nest, one tiny fuzzy head peaks over the edge. What was more thrilling, Forrest found half an egg shell on the front porch--a gift and a treasure!
Not long after, another tiny fuzzy head wobbled above the edge.
We watched the parents come in and out, mouths filled with food for the babies. Each mouth full would produce a small white packet from the other end that the parents would gently pick up and transport away from the nest.
Maggie took particular joy in sitting on the front porch staring at the family therefore ensuring a swallow smack down. You must understand, swallows are very family oriented and will call for local family members to come and help with ousting an intruder with shrill calls and tweeps, fly bys and sometimes even fur grabs.
This morning brought about 20-30 swallows flying in a panic across the front yard and the porch. The alarm call had been sounded and I rushed down the stairs to the front door to grab Maggie inside so the birds would calm. However, when I grabbed Maggie and paused, I sensed something wasn't quite right. There was too much panic and too many birds for just Maggie. Something else was wrong--something else was going on.
I put Maggie inside, closed the front door, and waited on the sidewalk. The birds dispersed and eventually one swallow parent flew to the nest. But no one greeted her. Not even one fuzzy head.
Last evening as I left with friends, I proudly showed them how big the babies were getting--big enough to perch almost on the lip of the nest waiting for mom and dad to feed them and able to see their parents as they flew across the yard. Although one was smaller than the other, I knew that only a day separated them and the smaller one would soon catch up.
A parent swallow flew to the nest and hesitated. She walked a little down into the nest, paused, then flew away. I knew instantly something was terribly wrong. I grabbed a chair from inside and gently put my hand inside the nest. One tiny swallow baby was very cold and very still. I removed him and gently felt for the other one. Not as cold but not moving much. I removed him from the nest also and could tell it was only a matter of time before he joined his sibling. He was cold, not moving, eyes closed and breathing shallowly. I left him in his home.
I buried the littlest swallow in the garden near the front door--not so far away from the only home he ever had. Later on in the day I again checked the nest, removed the lifeless body of the second baby swallow and buried him beside the first.
Now the nest is empty. The parents haven't been back since this morning and I only hope they don't blame us for their family's demise. I surmise that it's entirely possible they caught and fed chemically contaminated bugs to their family. Who knows the poisons people spray around and in their yards never paying attention to the wildlife they affect and destroy.
The little mud cup of life is now empty. I hope it's not for long.