‘One swallow doth not a summer make’Swallows returned to their nesting sites in the chill temperatures of a shed in Northern Scotland on Monday last week. My heart rose to meet them. There were two of them. A third arrived yesterday. It seems like a very long time since I heard swallow song – that swooping, diving ‘weet-weet’ of recognition – in these cold north latitude skies. They left as a massing cloud on autumn equinox last September, fully three weeks early. And, as if on cue, winter started soon after and went on relentlessly until spring equinox. If you look at it from a swallow’s-eye-view, they’ve been gone fully six months. No wonder we celebrate the sight of the first swallow. They presage summer. They symbolize transcendant spirit over adversity, They are the original bluebird.
I’m not alone in my excitement at their return: in the balmy skies of southern California, they’ve made a study of local ‘swallows’ into a science and tourist attraction. At the eighteenth century Alta California mission of San Juan Capistrano in Orange County, south of Los Angeles, they do special swallow tours and swallow welcome rituals, especially for the return of the winged beauties, Stelgidopteryx serripennis (there they’re actually martins, but who’s arguing?) on San Juan’s Feast Day, March 19th. That’s a month and a half ago. Lucky ducks.
In other parts of Britain they celebrate too. In Orkney and Shetland, the return of the ‘hirondelle‘ coincides with May Day, ancient Beltane, the festival that heralds summer. Meanwhile at Bretton Lake National Reserve in West Yorkshire their Hirundo rustica have been back nearly a month; that means they braved snow and hail to get here.
At least mine arrived on a warm wind. And a full moon.
When Britain was a naval power, the swallow was like a mascot, a bird of good fortune and luck. Swallows were invariably seen over the mainmast when a ship came within sight of land. They implied ‘safe return’ after a long voyage. In even earlier times, when tea clippers plied to and from the Orient, swallow tattoos were an oceangoing tradition, an unspoken language, if you like: one tattoo for crossing the equator one way; another when you came back. In vessels to farther seas, a mariner earned his swallow tattoo for going ’round the Horn’ – Cape Horn in Antarctic waters of South America, and the Horn of Africa between the south Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. In another tradition, a sailor had his chest tattooed after he’d sailed five thousand nautical miles (5750 miles). So a sailor with a couple of bluebird tattoos was experienced, trustworthy, one with the gods in his corner. He was first choice for a captain looking for crew. In legend, if the fates stepped in and he drowned, the birds would alight on his soul, lift it from the swirling waters and carry it to heaven.
The bird implied loyalty, faith, honor, love, hope and safe return.
In some cultures still, the first swallow of spring signifies an omen of financial success or a surprise windfall. Two swallows – popular as a tattoo in barrio culture – represent freedom.
In indigenous American culture the swallow or bluebird totem, as a herald of summer, brings warmth and protection to the home. She incorporates the spiritual principles of objectivity and perspective, as well as communication in a group environment.
Hollywood created the ‘bluebird of happiness’ for the song Zippedy doo-dah’ in Walt Disney’s 1946 movie ‘Song of the South’, and the cartoon was based on the totem principles of contentment and joy to be found in everyday life, in its suggestion that we dance and sing with every step. That we enjoy what is happening now, or what is about to happen in our lives.Perhaps it is this sense of anticipation I feel at the little bird’s return to the North – such a tiny creature, such a long journey. The European swallow weighs no more than three-quarters of an ounce, 20g. She has flown – from southern Africa to the shores of Britain – a total of 6000 miles.
So what are we anticipating? What surprises do this year’s aerial messengers bring?
Not crop circles. Not a single apparition. Not yet.
None so far in Wiltshire and Hampshire fields. But it’s still early days. The oil seed rape (canola) crop is only just reaching its flowering height. And it’s far too early for a resonating mandala to appear in barley or wheat.
In previous summers, swallow crop circles appearing in Cotswolds and Plains farms have been interpreted as presaging solar activity: eclipses, solar wind surges. electromagnetic disturbances.
While this video shows an interesting rendition of NASA’s SOHO transmission last week (April 25-30, 2010), its interpretation is better explained at the following link which cannot be converted to an image for ‘security reasons’. The commentator explains carefully and meticulously the presence of ‘two suns’ – an unknown very bright object within the orbit and corona of our own sun, which does not coincide with the orbits of any of the inner planets. I recommend viewing it at:
While the crop circle phenomenon has in past years delivered consciousness-changing designs or peace-inducing sonic mandalas, this year it looks as if we may be treated to the astral phenomenon first before the glyph appears as an embellishment in the crop.
It is not surprising that NASA has so far made no comment about the bright light-object. Nor am I surprised by my inability to transfer a link from the ‘Two Suns’ video to this page. I eagerly anticipate the first crop circle immediately following this SOHO object’s appearance.
Perhaps the swallows’ return three days early this year is a good sign: an indication that this summer will be hot, nay, blistering, and the hirondelle population may burgeon once more. It needs to. Despite British birders (‘twitchers’) considering their number as one which hovers in the ‘normal’ range for a migrant species, what they call a ‘species of least concern’, I worry about them.
I hope the summer they presage becomes one we can enjoy: not one where earth changes dominate. We have already experienced three earthquakes of major proportions over the winter, a volcano which is still erupting – themselves highlighting human dithering and unpreparedness; and the present oil-spill mop-up operation in the Gulf of Mexico will take every available human resource from two continents to avert a wildlife and environmental disaster. If the swallow totem signifies hope and happiness – if the bluebird hirondelle has its say and we are prepared to listen once more – we might learn a thing or two. We might rekindle our ability to focus: to concentrate on creating peace, joy and happiness for ourselves and in our world. After all, as my last guest blogger remarked: we create our own reality. And what we focus on increases.
One swallow may not make a summer. But three? There’s hope.