Sunday, May 15, 2011
I'd heard the tell-tale rustling and chirping behind the mirror over the fireplace for several days in a row. The swifts were back and setting up housekeeping in our chimney. I don't remember the first year they discovered the brick nest at the top of our house, but they've claimed it as their own for long enough we no longer feel safe to use the fireplace in winter - even for emergencies.
That morning as I sat in my living room journaling my way into the still-dark morning, it dawned on me that the manic peeps I was hearing came from the fireplace itself. The only other time that's happened was with a baby who had fallen from the nest and couldn't yet fly. I figured this time, since it was far too early for babies, this was an adult who could go back up whatever opening it had descended through.
I just needed to give it time.
Several hours later, it was clear the swift was going nowhere on its own and would need rescuing. So I formed a plan and said a prayer and got to work: Put the dog out. Clear the hearth. Check the location of the cats (all three sleeping and uninterested). Open the living room windows as wide as possible.
Best case scenario, the bird would fly straight out a window. Worst case, the bird would fly frantically around my house breaking things until a cat awakened and decided to have some fun.
I cautiously tugged the fireplace doors open, expecting a flurry of feathers to come flying out. When nothing happened I stuck my head inside, a little bit at at time, and looked around. Nothing. I figured the bird had escaped back up the chimney to get away from the noise I'd created, but went to get a flashlight just to make sure.
And there it was, clinging to the sooty bricks, nearly invisible. It blinked at the light, but didn't move (allowing me to take pictures) until I reached for it. Then it flew out the window, just like that. I put everything away, satisfied at the successful rescue.
Shortly after, I heard a soft rustling in the fireplace. No chirping, just the faintest whisper of a sound. I convinced myself it was my imagination until one of the cats started knocking things over trying to get through the glass of the fireplace doors. So I repeated my earlier preparations, this time putting the now hyper-alert cat outside with Toby, hoping to get the bird out the window before the cat made her way back around the house.
There it was, on the opposite side, a mirror image of its partner. Except its eyes were closed.
This time the bird didn't move, even as I reached for it. I decided it must have been there all along - that both birds had found their way down the chimney together. After hours of no water or food, this bird was out of fight. When I wrapped my hand around its body, it came to life in a frantic flurry which I scooped toward the window. How it managed to fly through and past the returned cat waiting at the sill, I'll never know, but I was so grateful it did.
They haven't returned to the chimney, this pair, although I hear them as they swoop for food above the house. I wonder what they tell each other about their adventure. I wonder why they didn't just fly back up through the damper that had somehow come open over the winter. I wonder about the survival mechanism that made it a better thing to stay still and risk capture by a giant, over escaping in any way possible.
I think about how similar we humans are when faced with a fearful situation. How we'll freeze and take our chances with outcomes that hold the potential for far greater disaster than risking a push into the dark unknown. How even the threat of death is not enough to make us break through the fear. Still, with all of that - we, like the swifts, respond to a helping hand. It doesn't seem to matter whether we recognize the hand. Somehow the help of another being reaches past the barriers of fear to give our wings lift we can't find for ourselves.