Mud and Straw


Steve Gettle Barn Swallows


~ Learning from the Swallow ~


I spent a good part of my childhood in my grandmother’s village, believing that the mud nests the swallows had built under the eaves brought us good luck. More nests—better luck. I remember the joy when yet another swallow family chose to raise its young under my grandmother’s roof.

The swallow was an almost totemic animal for me—a swift, hard-working, cheerful bird, the harbinger of spring. Basically, everything I wasn’t (but wished to be). Over the years, as I moved away from the village to increasingly bigger cities, I saw swallows less often and began to forget their importance.

But just the other day, while walking through a Swiss vineyard, where lively birds chased a slow cloud of midges, I glimpsed the tell-tale red flash of a swallow’s neck. I squinted into the sun—and sure enough, there it was, that thing with feathers from my childhood, its forked tail scissoring the air above me. Another moment of blissful abandon and it was gone, leaving me doubled over with longing.

It felt like home, that quick encounter, a home I can only revisit in my memory, because the people who made it meaningful once are only alive in my mind—and in my heart, which misses them, deeply. I returned to my new, likely temporary, home and listened to swallow sounds on YouTube, the chirps, whirrs, and warbles filling me with even more longing. I reread the Romanian fairytale I had loved as a child, the one about Randunica, the girl who turns into a swallow. I looked at my grandmother’s pictures. I mourned.

Then I wrote this piece. A walk down memory lane, yes. But also an acknowledgement that our past is firmly ensconced within us, a mud nest the swallows of our soul rebuild each spring.

This piece also appeared in a slightly different form in Construction Literary Magazine, Summer 2020.

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