Jane Schmidt is a resident of Vernon County, Wisconsin. She is an award-winning weekly columnist for the Crawford County Independent newspaper in Gays Mills, Wisconsin, and the author of several books.
There was nothing unusual about my morning. The water was heating up for my tea and I had my rubber work boots on. Louisa’s banana was cut up and mixed into mash in a yogurt container that had seen better days. The banana peel was tucked in the waist of my pajama bottoms for the goats, and all three dogs were jostling to see who would be first out the door as I headed out to do chores.
The cool air was refreshing. I kept an eye out for Mom and Pop barn swallow, who had become as common a sight here as all the other critters. They’d built a nest in a hidden corner of the goat palace, and I’ve enjoyed spying on the babies ever since I discovered them there.
Louisa the pig was the first to emerge from the goat palace, grunting as she half slid, half hopped off the ramp in a rush to get to her breakfast. She seems to live in constant fear of not getting another meal. Luna and Peepers are slower to wake up, more cautious. They’re never in a big hurry to start the day. They peek out, looking up at the sky. If it looks like rain, or is raining, they stay put. If it’s a gorgeous crisp morning like today, still no hurry. They seem to know their hay and water will always be waiting for them.
Louisa already had her head buried deep in her feed bowl as I went up the ramp, taking a second to rub Luna and Peepers between their horns, their favorite spot to have scratched. They remind me of furry yogis when they stand on three legs with a tiny hoof bent just so, to scratch above their eye. But no matter how hard they try, they can’t scratch that spot between their horns.
I had my camera turned on, the flash up. Ducking my head under the shelf in the goat palace, I lifted my camerabut no baby swallows! I pushed my head in farther to look into the nest. Nobody home. My heart plummeted as I started searching the goat palace high and low, thinking, Oh no, they fell out, tried to fly out—or worse, one of the cats got them!
Some difficult mornings this summer have been made sweeter by the presence of the barn swallow family. Taking a few extra minutes to say good morning to the babies has made me hustle to get outside at dawn. Leaning up against the fence post and watching Mom and Pop swoop at Monkey, the cat, who was minding his own business, has been my morning entertainment.
This morning Mom and Pop didn’t seem worried. They were busy dive-bombing not only poor Monkey, who could be trouble, but also Luna, Peepers, and Louisa, who certainly pose no threat. Meanwhile, I was working myself into a tizzy but trying to stay calm as I walked the perimeter of the pen and beyond. I couldn’t find any clues. No feathers, and no babies. They must have flown the coop—or in this case, the palace. I hoped they were safe, but I couldn’t help feeling worried.
Chores were finished and my boots were feeling full of sand. The walk back up to the house took longer than usual. I drank my tea, but had no interest in breakfast. I should be happy the birds were grown and gone, but I wasn’t fully convinced. Just yesterday, I’d laughed at seeing all six babies scrunched up in their nest. I could tell by their size they were growing quickly and getting stronger, but I wasn’t anywhere near ready for them to move away.
Living where I do, I’m reminded daily that I have no control over who stays or goes. Turtles plod across the pasture, bats dive down and keep the bugs at bay, garter snakes slither past as I mow, toads surprise me when I walk in the creek, fallen bird nests tumble through the yard, and the mice, voles, and moles scurry everywhere. Often a coyote or two come looking for a free lunch, a buzzard above keeps watch, and fox kits have been seen wrestling near the roadside. The only constant is that no one stays forever. Not even beloved friends, as I recently learned when my “other mother” and dear friend, Pat Martin, died suddenly and unexpectedly.
But a new day had begun. Louisa was slobbering up her food as fast as I could say “Good morning.” Peeps and Luna had decided it was okay to venture out of their palace, the donkeys were braying, and the geese and ducks were squawking so loudly I was forced to wake up and pay attention. When I looked up, it took me a few seconds to comprehend what I was seeing. I stood there, staring, my pajama pants tucked into my rubber boots, my jaw hanging open.
There in the morning haze of my sleepy valley, six baby barn swallows soared and dipped, climbed and descended. The babies were here! Joy flooded over me as I practically skipped back to the house, thinking there was nothing usual about this morning. I hope they stay awhile.
In memory of Pat Martin, my true life heroine.
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