Monday, 13 May 2013


They’ve made it again,
Which means the globe’s still working, the Creation’s
Still waking refreshed, our summer’s
Still all to come

I’d heard these words so frequently repeated and unattributed that it was a jolt to finally put them to the poem they came from. Ted Hughes, naturally. Words as fast and details as hard-edged as the birds themselves. A controlled scream is precisely what a Swift is in sound and vision and essence, and I’ll brook no argument about this.

The scream is how they announce themselves, every year, around the second week of May. Pushed ahead of storm clouds, or shooting through a clear blue sky; low over an English lake or roof-height between Scottish tenements; they are the most evocative of the late arriving migrants. The comma between spring and summer. More than being just a sign of season transition, the physical bird is itself extraordinary. Reduced to the most basic elements of ‘bird’, it one of nature’s starkest examples of form following function. A thrilling, Spartan flying machine; all shapely curved wings and not much else. Not much of a voice either, their scream is certainly not a songbird, but it is the sound of lazy summer evenings. The call to look up, to look around you. I remember watching them screaming around the old streets of Bury St Edmunds – houses old enough to still have the nooks needed for nesting – as I walked across town to school. All I needed was a Swift screaming with anthropomorphic joy of life and flight, and I forgot the crowded pavements, the fumes from congested streets, the itchy starchy school uniform…

It was eight o’clock when I left the library into a pale, cool evening. Walking over the loch, I paused to acknowledge the swans drifting in pale-pink water, the gathering crows and the flocks of Hirundines flickering in the dwindling light. I looked back over to the library and see, silently slipping through the sky, a Swift. Just briefly, before it disappeared over the trees, into a worryingly insect free evening. The silence unsettled me.

They’re back again. The globe is still working, just about, and summer is still to come.