On the first of May we take out a window high up in the old barn. Then we wait. The day my eye catches the swoop and flick, wings like a drawn bow, body and tail the arrow, delight soars in me. Followed by the gulp of mingled grief and relief. Because I’m always afraid they might not make it back. Because barn swallows are on Canada’s Species at Risk list. Because they winter elsewhere, fly thousands of kilometres to build their nest on a collar tie in the barn everyone thought we should pull down. A friend and I spent a perilous summer jacking up a collapsing wall — and with it the roof. It’s still not a hymn to symmetry, this barn, but it shelters our sheep and is home to swallows. There are fewer and fewer such barns. There are fewer and fewer birds. Bird populations in North America have declined by three billion since 1970.
Something happened to me a couple of years ago. I was about to turn sixty. My father had died. I was watching the swallows skim the skies, my mind and heart and spirit rising with them. And then I fell back into my humanness. Into my sorrow. Into my responsibility. Suddenly I couldn’t do it any more, the two step of guilt and delight. I was tired of it and of myself. I needed to act, so that when I looked up I could say, ‘Thank you, birds. I’m doing what I can.’
A year later (and a year ago today) I woke up in a tent on a logging road, listening for the sound of heavy equipment. I lay on lumpy ground and the dawn chorus built around me, one song then another and another. We were there on that road, the three of us, two women in their twenties and me, to block the cutting of an old forest. A forest full of nesting birds.
The birds, of course, were there for the black-flies, and the black-flies were ready for us. That first morning, we drank coffee and swatted and contemplated how better to sling our Extinction Rebellion banner across the road. I have rarely been happier.