In late winter this year, I was disappointed to see the destruction of the old fashioned barn that sits about 1/2 mile from our house. The owners of the property, a young Mormon Couple with eight children, had decided that it would improve the looks of his place, although that is not my opinion. The barn was majestic, built in the manner of big, working-farm barns in the late 19th and early 20th century. Under a high, peaked roof with slanting slides was a hayloft, complete with big opening in the front. I've often imagined the hired-hands working from the ground and the loft, using ropes to lift the hay bales to the loft. Under the loft was a big central area with stalls and storage rooms. To each side was a smaller, low-ceiling areas used to shade, protect and feed livestock. To the east of the barn was a large, spring- fed pond, that is still a haven to wild birds, ducks & geese and watering spot for deer, coyote and wild turkey. The barn itself was home to dozens, if not hundreds of barn swallows. The destruction of their "home" was the source of my sadness.
As the last board was taking down, Roy and I opened wide all the barn doors at the Pischer Pfarm. I debated whether to leave open the north-side doors, as last summer, a barn cat destroyed a barn swallow nest by balancing on a beam directly under the nest and leaping up at the nest. I found the shattered swallow eggs on the barn floor the next morning, after looking up and seeing half the nest still attached to the beam, the other half hanging down by threads of straw and mud. That pair of swallows never returned. But how I enjoyed watching the Mormon Barn Swallows swoop around our 50 acres, their indigo blue wings & bodies glinting in the sun.
Early this spring, my depression was lifted when I saw three pair of barn swallows swooping in and out of the barn and outbuildings at the Pischer Pfarm! They wisely steered clear of the north side of the barn, opting instead to rebuild an old swallow nest on a seven foot beam in the center of ceiling of the small three-sided shed behind the barn. This was a perfect place to escape barn cats, as there are no beams under the nest. Neither was it near a "leapable" location for a barn cat to spring. Another pair chose the back porch of a new garage that went up on 13 acres just northwest of our property that was recently purchased by a young couple with two children. The last pair, to my delight, began building a brand new nest in Mother's spring house. What a perfect place! The spring house sits inside Mother's chain link fenced yard, where Pedro, her dachshund / terrier mix dog, patrols and protects the yard from marauding bard cats. Although not completely thrilled with the idea, Mother reluctantly agreed to keep the door open for the swallows, but only after I agreed to help her clean the bird poop from the floor. "What am I going to do next year when all those fledglings return to the spring house?" she'd repeat, while I envisioned spring 2005 beginning with a barn full of swallows.
I watched in fascination as they collected small mouthfuls of mud (created by intentional and non-intentional stock tank overflows) and straw and created their nest. Mother, Roy and I would sit on our kitchen porch and watch mesmerized at their captivating and beautiful flights, swooping high and low across our lawns, the driveway, through the barns and outbuildings and in the fields. Flying furiously and often making 90 degree turns in mid-flight to catch bugs, they were a charming sight that added to my delight with country living. The spring house swallows got so used to us, they would fly right by us as we did yard work and farm chores. Last week, we noticed that the female had begun lining the nest with her feathers, a sure sign that the eggs would soon follow.
Beside the spring house sits a low, flat topped building that houses the well pump. We began noticing small muddy animal paw prints on the side of the building that faces the driveway and the side of the building inside Mother's yard. We set "mouse traps," which are a great cat deterrent, on the well house roof.
Yesterday morning I was drinking coffee on the kitchen porch, and I noticed a pair of swallows collecting mud and flying into the north side of the barn. "Oh no." Sure enough, they were rebuilding the nest that was destroyed by the barn cat last year. "Why didn't I tear that nest down?" "Why didn't I shut these doors so they'd go to the south side?" which is protected completely from the barn cats' lair by a wall. I asked myself these questions over and over as I watched this pair slowly and painstakingly rebuilt this dilapidated nest, under the keen, eye-level observation of three barn cats, Simon, Samson and Lyla, who sat on top of the hay bales.
Discouraged, I walked over to Mother's to tell her of this development. Before going inside, I decided to check the spring house swallow nest. At the door, lying on the ground, was the body of one of the spring house swallows. "Was it predator, Pedro or disease that got the swallow?" I asked myself over and over. Nature can be cruel, it's true, but I am anguished that the line of the Spring House Swallows is gone.
In Praise of Barn Swallows has links to other Barn Swallow stories. It is one of my Miscellaneous Essays. There are others.