Songs of Summer

Earlier this month, the Ranch shivered under sub-teen temperatures. The giant double palm in front of Benedict House that we feared would eat us alive someday may have bit the dust. Its giant fronds have turned brown. We won’t know if it survived until several weeks of warm weather have settled in.
But already this morning, after just a few days of temps in the 60s I noticed the Carolina jasmine putting out yellow blossoms.
And best of all, barn swallows have finally moved into the barn! Their cheerful chirps seemed so out of synch with the bitterly cold weather but today it’s warm and sunny—Texas winter at its most beautiful—and the little birds are busily scouting nesting sites.
Not everybody’s thrilled. Yes, I know they’re messy, but maybe they’ll eat flies or mosquitoes like their martin cousins. I love seeing them swoop and dart among the eaves.
The swallows have nested for years on the porches of our residences, and every house undergoes the annual drama of who will win out this year—the mother and father swallows, or the wily snakes that stalk the baby birds.
We’ve tried everything to protect them, but it never works and nature runs her course. Once we had the sad experience of watching the babies sit on the edge of their adobe nest and flap their wings, hours from fledging, and two hours later finding a contented rat snake with five distinct lumps distorting its lithe silhouette. The Ranchers were outraged by the injustice of it all and though we encouraged them to try to look at the situation from the snake’s point of view, we secretly agreed.
Anyway, I’m hopeful the vastly increased altitude of their nests in the barn will lead to an increased survival rate for the little ones. It’s a joy to see them take their first flights. They start off careening this way and that, but within 15 seconds have pretty much figured it out, and within 30 are able to land and perch —not gracefully, but all in all a pretty amazing learning curve.
From then on it’s a few days of intensive flying to build endurance, with Mom and Dad leading the way, wheeling around the area of their nests in ever-widening circles.

And so planet Earth wheels through the universe toward spring and summer.