Swallows

Sunday night around dusk, I walked along the edge of our slough. The plat books call it “Olson Lake,” but after a couple years of drought, slough is a better descriptor. 

The path is a couple of miles round trip, just the right way to ease into a new week. We’d been entertaining grandchildren and among other things, I’d eaten more than my share of county fair food. 

About halfway along, there’s a dead tree that’s been standing there long enough so all the bark is long gone. It gleams stark and white against the cattails and willows. 

As I got closer, I squinted through the dusk, because it looked like the tree had sprouted leaves. A few more steps and the leaves suddenly took flight and swirled around my head. 

The tree had been filled with swallows, hundreds of them. I suppose the young birds have just left the protection of their nests and are trying out their wings, learning the rules of the flock before they start their migration to South America.   

It’s a sign that fall is coming. There are others. At 9:00 p.m., the darkness was nearly complete. Summer days can feel like they last forever, but in my part of the world, that’s a fleeting feeling. The first batch of apples have been turned into apple butter, fresh tomatoes and sweet corn are a daily part of the menu, and I noticed about a bushel of pears being diced in the kitchen. I didn’t ask my wife what she was planning to do with them, because I didn’t want to help. Also, I’m confident I’ll like the end result. A lot more harvesting is yet to be done, crops of all types wait, but the writing is on the wall and the clock is ticking. 

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live in a place where the harbingers of winter aren’t so all-consuming. Eighty percent of the people in the United States live in an urban area, where even a hard winter usually just means more clothes and bad commutes. Among the 20% who do live in rural areas, many of them live in softer places, where winter is an inconvenience, not an invasion.  

That’s not where I live. 

I once wrote, “There’s something kind of cool about living in a place where you can die just from going outside.”  

I still believe it, somewhat, but I admit the older I get, with more pervasive aches and pains, the less I enjoy winter. 

The ground has claimed a few leaves, a smattering of red and yellow among a background of various shades of green. Young birds are trying their wings, young children are shopping for school clothes. I love stepping out the door in the morning and pulling in a lungful of cool, crisp air. I like the sense of urgency, the feeling that various projects need to get wrapped up before the dark and cold arrive. 

That’s what I think. I have no idea what the swallows are thinking. 

Copyright 2021 Brent Olson