This week as I walked beside the mangrove swamp next to Hotel Reef I saw lots of Barn Swallows, all of them flying eastward along the coast, against a stiff wind. For a couple of hours swallows were seldom out of my sight, though there was never many of them, usually no more than four or five. This is highly significant, for Barn swallows do not overwinter in the Yucatan. This is the first time I've seen them this winter. They were migrating north, preparing to make the great leap across the Gulf of Mexico onto the coasts of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi...
Barn Swallows do overwinter from a bit south of us to Tierra del Fuego, so the swallows I saw may have flown only from Guatemala or Chiapas. Still, they were the harbingers of a majestic event, spring bird migration, and as I stood in all that wind, sunlight and dry heat amidst gyrating coconut palms and the thunder of the ocean surf not far away, I couldn't keep from remembering all the times I've documented and celebrated these birds' arrivals up north.
When I was a kid in Kentucky one March morning I entered Earl Bryant's old abandoned farmhouse and found a dozen or so dead Barn Swallows scattered on the wooden floor. They'd entered through a broken window and died during a hard freeze the night before. I remember standing there trying to imagine what it must have been like where they'd come from if they couldn't survive the coldness our native winter birds hadn't had any trouble with. Now, at the other end of my life, I'm at the other end of the migratory route, and I am wishing these swallows well as they head north.
Spring is coming... but of course it's the rainy season that's coming... yet what a thing to be split in so many ways, to be me in Earl Bryant's old farmhouse the morning after the terrible swallow- killing freeze, and to still be me here among the teeming mangroves, watching swallows depart for the North.