An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of July 20, 2003
issued from the woods just south of Natchez, Mississippi, USA

BARN SWALLOWS & BEETHOVEN

One day this week I sat in my rockingchair in the barn door while the usual late-afternoon storm darkened the sky and growled. As I watched swallows cavorting over the Loblolly field, on the radio Beethoven's wonderful Eighth Symphony was playing.

The symphony's first movement is often dark with wrathful emotions, yet every now and then there are bursts among the bassoons and drums that have always struck me as very like laughter. The whole piece is on the one hand deadly serious, yet, throughout, there are unmistakable explosions of horse-laughing glee. It's very like swallows playing in a stormy summer sky.

History tells us that when Beethoven wrote the good- natured Eighth he was ill and profoundly disturbed by the political events and wars of his time. In the same vein, whenever I hear the Dalai Lama speak, he seems to laugh a lot, despite the plight of his people under Chinese domination. When I was in India I met several holy people and their faces always glowed with cheerfulness, despite the poverty and degradation in which they lived. In this world of collapsing ecosystems and ongoing mass extinctions of species, The Creator populates the darkening sky with playful swallows.

As the storm broke and the Loblolly field heaved beneath wind and rain, those swallows took their time getting to safety. And I could only look on dumbly and feel ashamed that in my own life maybe I have been too slow at catching most of the jokes around me, and too clumsy ever to dance. Facebook Icon.