I almost missed them. But on this September afternoon I glimpse a sparkling white belly in the golden sunlight. Filled with joy I watch the last swallows making their rounds over the village, moving ever so slightly towards the south with each round, following the sun. I want to keep that moment as a souvenir from our time together. Quickly I grab my phone and point its camera blindly towards the sky. I pull the trigger not knowing whether there's even something noticeable on the picture. But I don't care, I need this memory. The swallows have found a special place in my heart and it breaks a little bit every time the nights suddenly are longer than the days. The swallows are a pure sign of summer to me. When by the end of March they decorate the sky with their winged dances again and their sweet voices wake me from my sleep, I want to jubilate, to celebrate their return. I ask myself if they remember me as well. Are those returning swallows the same ones that were here last year already? Six months I can enjoy them and that should be enough. But this year I somehow missed their departure. I was so sad that I wasn't able to say thank you, to wave them goodbye. The very familiar melancholy that comes from the absence of those birds took hold of me and I knew what I didn't want to know: summer is over.
Aren't those contradictory feelings the change from summer into fall brings a bit curious? On the one hand I look forward to the refreshed energy and the new season. Arguably September and October are the most beautiful months here in the mountains. The light, the warmth, the colors. Unbelievably beautiful. And still there's this melancholy, this bittersweet goodbye. Every year. Nature, too, seems to be undecided this year. Summer is still holding on, keeps on coming back, can't be persuaded to hand over the reign to autumn. Fall contents itself with ruling over the nights that have gotten quite a bit colder and longer than the days. The swallows, too, seem to not being able to decide. The ones that were left behind still fight the same battle as summer: to leave or to stay. But we all know how it will end. At some point fall has always come. Someday he will be the only ruler. He will dress the trees in new clothes while the swallows keep living their lives in warmer regions of this earth.
Can you recognize the swallows on the September sky?
And hence, on this September afternoon, I can't quite believe that I haven't missed my chance yet. The little bellies of the last swallows, golden from the sun, are like fireworks. I watch them for a long while and wish them all the best in my mind. "Say hi to the ocean for me", I tell the remaining birds. Although I don't really know where my swallows, the swallows of Stierva, will travel to. In my imagination they are always the same ones, living here and at the same time having their second home somewhere in the north of Africa. We are connected by an inseparable bond that lets the swallows know when it's time to return home to us. Then they cross the Sahara and the Mediterranean sea, with only one goal: reaching the mountains.
I read that for a long time we didn't even know where our swallows spend the winter and that only recently ornithologists have found out where the birds hibernate. It is fascinating to me how little we know. Never would a human be able to intuitively know the way from Stierva to the Gulf of Guinea and back again. But the swallows do know. They not only cover the distance twice a year, but they also know the exact moment to start their long journeys, without possessing a calendar. Their calendar and their GPS is nature. Nature, who knows what she's doing. This thought soothes me during this time of transition. Nature knows what she's doing when she lets go of summer. When she makes space for fall and starts preparing herself for the quiet of winter. Nature knows what she's doing when she lets a few swallows spend a bit more time here with us. Perhaps just to make the transition easier and to let us know that our white-bellied birds will soon be back. She knows what she's doing even when it's sometimes not decipherable to us human beings. We just have to let her do her thing and I have to let the swallows go for now. Following the sun towards the south. I'm just lucky that I have those blurry photos as a keep-sake that I will carry with me through the winter and the darkness.