We were walking the dogs in our usual local park, yesterday evening. The sky was blue with a few fluffy clouds and the air was warm with a gentle breeze. The water level of the Esk was relatively high for this point of summer, and most of the boulders and rocks that we would normally see in the river were sumberged beneath its iron red waters. As we came over the bridge and stepped out onto the parkland we were greeted with the amazing spectacle of dozens of low flying swifts.
I was literally halted in my tracks, and we stood and watched in awe and amazement for about 15 minutes as these incredible arial acrobats performed a show for us. We were the only people in the park and it was asthough time had stopped, and the birds were interacting with us. For some reason the swifts were swooping down really low and skimming across the top of the grass along the whole length of the park. They would keep a dead straight course and then suddenly without warning would turn on a pin. At times there would be a bird heading straight towards us, and surely it was going to hit us, and then in a millisecond it would curve up and over our head.
It was breathtaking and I found myself grinning from ear to ear and my heart beating faster as I was caught up in the miracle of the display. My whole awareness and attention was resting on these tiny gymnasts, and for a little while nothing else was passing through my mind. Their sense of joy and delight as they stretched their wings and pushed their limits somehow passed into me as I watched enthralled. Perfect mindfulness in the heart of nature……And then the spell was broken by a few other dog walkers and some kids who had come to play football, suddenly spilling onto the grass. The birds were still flying but the connection was gone and we continued our walk……still smiling….
The swifts usually arrive here in May and stay for the summer. I always love watching their small distinctives shapes high in the sky above me…..but this had been a special treat…up close and personal.
They are incredibly powerful birds and they rarely make a touch down. In fact if you find one on the ground it might need your help to get back into the sky. They eat, drink, bathe and preen on the wing, travelling at amazing speeds, without ever resting, and are thought to be the only bird that mates while flying!
Here’s a poem I love about them….(well their close relative the swallow!)…contrasting their weightless gravity defying delight with our earth bound heaviness and effort…….by Ted Huges
Work and Play
The swallow of summer, she toils all the summer,
A blue-dark knot of glittering voltage,
A whiplash swimmer, a fish of the air.
But the serpent of cars that crawls through the dust
In shimmering exhaust
Searching to slake
Its fever in ocean
Will play and be idle or else it will bust.
The swallow of summer, the barbed harpoon,
She flings from the furnace, a rainbow of purples,
Dips her glow in the pond and is perfect.
But the serpent of cars that collapsed on the beach
Disgorges its organs
A scamper of colours
Which roll like tomatoes
Nude as tomatoes
With sand in their creases
To cringe in the sparkle of rollers and screech.
The swallow of summer, the seamstress of summer,
She scissors the blue into shapes and she sews it,
She draws a long thread and she knots it at the corners.
But the holiday people
Are laid out like wounded
Flat as in ovens
Roasting and basting
With faces of torment as space burns them blue
Their heads are transistors
Their teeth grit on sand grains
Their lost kids are squalling
While man-eating flies
Jab electric shock needles but what can they do?
They can climb in their cars with raw bodies, raw faces
And start up the serpent
And headache it homeward
A car full of squabbles
And sobbing and stickiness
With sand in their crannies
That pours from the foxgloves
While the evening swallow
The swallow of summer, cartwheeling through crimson,
Touches the honey-slow river and turning
Returns to the hand stretched from under the eaves –
A boomerang of rejoicing shadow.