Thursday, June 02, 2011

Barn Swallows and Bare Feet

In Annie Dillard's The Writing Life (wonderful!) she describes an aerial show by Dave Rahm, a daring pilot. At the conclusion of the show, she writes,

Just as I turned from the runway, something caught my eye and made me laugh. It was a swallow, a blue-green swallow, having its own air show, apparently inspired by Rahm. The swallow climbed high over the runway, held its wings oddly, tipped them, and rolled over the air in loops. The inspired swallow. I always want to paint, too, after I see the Rembrandts. The blue-green swallow tumbled precisely, and caught itself and flew up again as if excited, and looped down again, the way swallows do, but tensely, holding its body carefully still. It was a stunt swallow.

And in a flash I remembered the swallows of my first pregnancy. Az the husband and I had driven to an Indiana college to see an old friend graduate. She had been the little girl I babysat in college, and now she was grown and graduating from the same school I had attended. I had the butterflies in my stomach everyone gets when they visit their alma mater, but I was also in my first trimester. We came to the stands before we saw anyone we knew. The butterflies turned to nausea, sharp and insistent, and the crowds of strangers pressed in. While Az sat in the bleachers, I slipped out and went to the open field behind the stadium.

The field had been mowed moments before the ceremony began, and the insects were leaping in the air, looking for the tall grass that had concealed them. The air in the first nine inches above the field moved like dark popcorn. And flying low over the field, scooping the discombobulated bugs into their beaks, were barn swallows. Back and forth, back and forth over the field, joyful, careening harvesters of insect bounty. I sat in the grass, feeling the too-warm sunlight and the slight breeze moving over my tan silk dress. I took off my snug, heeled sandals. I watched the swallows and I heard the commencement speech muffled and blared by amplifiers and I tried not to think about my nausea.

In my mind now, that was the dividing moment between my childless life and my life as a mother. I did not know, in that moment, that I would have four babies in the next five years. I did not know how much of the next five years I would spend vomiting. I was trying to get through that moment of nausea by not thinking about the moment ahead of it, only this instant, this instant I am getting through, I will not worry about what comes after or the strangers I must make conversation with or the old friends I have to see when this is over. I will watch the swallows and smell the mown grass and feel the breeze and be thankful that I am not in a crowd and I don't have to put my shoes back on yet.

I feel tenderness for that unsuspecting mother-to-be, and I would not tell her a thing. I would not tell her the joys and sorrows ahead. I would let her watch the swallows, feel the blades of grass stick to her toes, quiet her body in the hope that this is temporary, this is almost over, not knowing the show is only beginning and she will tumble in the air.


  1. You know how people say, "I would go back to high school/college again, if I could know what I know now"?

    I have often thought that, to myself, thinking that I might not make some of the same mistakes, or have as much angst over what turned out to be very inconsequential. I would have traveled more, spent at least a semester overseas, not dated THAT guy, definitely dated the other guy, etc.

    On the other hand, there is something to be said about going into life with wide-eyed expectation. Probably a better thing.

  2. Ah, I've missed you. ;)

  3. Exactly. Glad to see you!

  4. Oh my gosh this was good, like poetry but in prose form.

  5. That was really poignant, and sad in a sense. The fact that you remember that moment with such clarity is interesting.

    I feel the same way about myself, 7 kids into my life- we're obviously not supposed to be prescient- we really couldn't handle it. We need to take life moment by moment; sometimes that's all we can handle!

  6. Alicia6/03/2011

    Hi, I'm reading your blog in Uruguay, South America. I found it through Jen, from Conversion Diary. Thanks for writing it.

  7. I'm here from Jen, and I am really enjoying your writing. Glad to find your blog!

  8. Oh my. So beautifully written - I have tears in my eyes!

    Also here from Jen's. :)

  9. Beautiful, Veronica. Just beautiful.

  10. Anonymous6/08/2011

    I am so happy that you are back. I have missed you!

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