It has been a nice cool week.  The turkeys are eating well and attaining beautiful coloring on their heads.  Seventeen weeks old tomorrow… plenty of gobbling.  Shipping dates are July 10 -12.  We hope the high heat keeps away for their last few weeks on the farm.

It has been a tumultuous week.

The animals on my mind today are not turkeys, Fritz the dog, nor Ruby the cat… but the barn swallows.  Each year I mark the dates of their stay: typically arrive around April 15 and depart in mid August.  This year they arrived early, April 7.  Within a few weeks, a few more arrived and then another pair, scouting the barn and barnyard for nesting sites, eating bugs (the infinite supply of buffalo gnats), all about their business.

Outside my office door there are three nests within fifteen feet… I absolutely adore these creatures, and appreciate my close-up view of them. 

Nesting Barn Swallows (June 2011)

The nests inside the barn are protected (predators are less likely to search near my office). I marvel at them diligently building their nests and sitting on their eggs.  I walk within three feet of a nest and, for the most part they don’t move.  If I am too close, they will take flight screeching… but return within a minute. We seem to have an unstated agreement. 

When really alarmed, all of the swallows in the barnyard (as many as 30) begin performing kamikaze stunts, attacking Fritz or Ruby usually, screaming and at most nipping harmlessly at their ears, head or tails. These are just diversion tactics.  They do not inflict pain and rarely even touch their presumed predators.  It wouldn’t be a contest if the cat actually caught one.

This morning I watched more intently than ever: the youngest babies have no feathers and are blind.  The parents work all day, feeding them constantly.  There is a ebb and flow in life that they re-introduced me to this morning. 

I lost a close friend to suicide last Saturday morning.  We buried him yesterday.  Tim was a highly honorable man with enormous integrity.  For a time, those of us around him waged a battle to fight the disease, severe depression: educating ourselves in hopes of defeating it… trying to extinguish it, or diminish it, every way we knew how.  Maybe we were more like swallows in distress.  Not recognizing the strength of the opponent, we merely nipped it at the edges, believing we could change its path.  A religious man, he called depression “a living hell” and it had more power over him than we realized.  It followed its path of destruction.   He left behind a wife, three daughters, a family, friends and a small community….   For the moment, everyone bends and wails as the natural rhythm has changed abruptly.  

So this morning I am in deep reflection watching the swallows continue their instinctual obligations, knowing I was part of the flock that tried to attack the enemy of my close friend… wishing we had found more powerful tools to send it back to hell before it took Tim’s life.