April 9, 2013 > Pat Kite's Garden: Swallow Story
Pat Kite's Garden: Swallow Story
By Pat Kite
My swallows are angry with me, again. They have rebuilt their annual nest high in my entryway eaves. Mr. & Mrs. Swallow do not think I should utilize my front walkway. They flutter frantically above my head when I have the temerity to stroll by; I always apologize but the walkway is the only sensible way to enter my abode. This is explained time after time to no avail. They are so panicked about their pending babies. How they remember my house, year after year, consistently amazes me.
When my family moved to the Tri-Cities from Oakland, eons ago, I spent the first two years trying not to cry. I loved Oakland, our little 35th avenue apartment with evening fire trucks howling by, a good excuse for neighbors, in their bathrobes, gathering to watch and socialize. But we came here; affordability was key. But it didn't seem like "home." That is, until the swallows came. I watched them build their twig and mud nest. They sat. They peeked at me over the nest rim. They swooped over the house. They got in staring matches with my cat, way below. And I remember thinking, if this is their home, then it is mine too.
Some say that a swallow's nest is lucky. In ancient Rome, swallows were sacred to household gods who looked after the home. In early Christian lore, a migratory swallow was often depicted hovering over Christ on the cross as a token of consolation and resurrection. In Chinese pictorial art, the swallow, "yan," is a sign of spring. It symbolizes success in one's future, happiness, plus the coming of children.
In Old Kingdom Egypt, swallows were associated with stars considered the souls of the dead. This juxtaposition is seen in several countries, thus the belief that killing a swallow is quite bad luck. More fun is the early British tradition, where sailors would get a swallow tattoo. Early sailing was a dangerous business, so a sailor might get a swallow tattoo before leaving home, and another upon returning. The more swallow tattoos a sailor had, the more experience and luck he had.
I quite enjoy my swallows, even though they sometimes don't enjoy me strolling by. I wait for the babies, usually four, so crowded in their fragile nest, their little heads peeking out. Momma and Poppa teach them to fly; little frantic spurts of wings, then longer ones. One morning they are gone. But next year, they will come home.