"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Swift Rescue


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.

22 comments:

Sandi said...

Aah, I loved this! I can just picture you as you worked your way into rescue mode. Those swifts know a good thing when they find it, I'd say.

You gave me pause for thought in the last paragraph, making me think about my fear of the unknown (or known!) coming up, and how grateful I am for your hand of friendship. Just knowing you're there is reassuring, and I appreciate you so much, dear friend.

Love you!

missing moments said...

How wonderful that you were able to rescue the swifts. And very well written!

Stacy Crawford said...

We had a bird in our chimney a couple weeks ago to. My husband helped the starling find its way out the back door too. Good thing your cat wasn't fast enough. :)

Desiree said...

I am so glad your tale had two happy endings. I guess the answer is faith, hope and trust, even in the case of those tiny swifts. What a lovely post as always, Deb.

Terry said...

This is beautifully written, as are all your posts, I'm glad that you were able to rescue those swifts. As well, the pictures are lovely. Thank you for sharing this.

Retired English Teacher said...

I feel so sorry for the bird, but I also know that when birds and such come in through the chimney, they can do some damage. I had a squirrel get in the house like this, not once, but twice. He ended up doing a lot of expensive damage. We had a device put on the chimney to keep birds and animals out.

Lilith said...

I had a family nest in the stove hood vent one year. I like birds but listening to a chirping brood, 24/7, because apparently they never sleep, convinced me to put mesh over the outlet.

Glad your birds made it out safely.

DJan said...

How wonderful that you were able to provide the helping hand that allowed these birds to continue on. What an uplifting story!

yaya said...

You're the hero of the day! Like this situation, many of life's tragedy moments prove that we humans are usually the good guys and not the scary things the news seems determined only to report.

Barb said...

A great metaphor, Deb - and a good rescue!

Wanda said...

So glad they both escaped--apparently unharmed. I love close encounters with the animal kingdom--especially when all ends well.

Wanda..... said...

In the past, we've had little swifts tweeting in our fireplace chimney too!

Guyana-Gyal said...

I wonder if birds have personalities, where some would freeze, and others would give their all to escape. Just like people.

Carol............. said...

I'm sure the little thing is very thankful!

Terri Tiffany said...

wonderful!! I felt like I was there with you and loved your analogy.

Amber said...

This brings to mind a book I read about how people survive disasters, I read last year. It said that most people freeze like the bird-- more often then freak out, like we think. We move too slowly, and don't act soon enough. Or we tend to wait for others to act first...maybe that is what the birds were doing. I find it interesting...

Happy they got away!

:)

Pam said...

What I love about this post is not only finding out about your rescue attempts for the little swifts, but also that you are a three cat- 1 dog person. That's delightful. Congratulations on a successful rescue.

Katie Gates said...

"to give our wings lift we can't find for ourselves" -- what a beautiful phrase to conclude a lovely post.

deborahjbarker said...

So glad your Swifts made a successful escape with your helping hand Deb.Also glad you didn't have to cope with a frightened bird thrashing around the room - experience tells me that the mess can be quite horrendous to clear up! A delightful and happy tale and as always, leaves us something to think about. Thank you!

Ann Best said...

A lovely mini-essay. You skillfully relate a human plight--fear--to the swifts in your chimney. I like this very much!
Ann Best, Memoir Author

Charlene: the Polarblogger said...

What a beautiful rescue story with a heartwarming lesson!
Yes, extending a helping hand to those in need adds meaning to our lives.

Bernie said...

"To give our wings lift we can't find for ourselves." Oh Deb, where do you come up with such incredibly beautiful words!

A great story with a beautiful lesson for everyone who has ever been fearful and that includes us all at one time or another. What choices do we make and is someone there always to help us? We forget that there is often, I think.