A proper education

This is the last brood of the summer for the swallows that have returned to our stable for five or six summers now. They still look pretty fresh-faced and innocent, don’t they?

In fact, they’re still spending their time flying up and down the stable, and being fed by their parents, with occasional family sorties over the meadow to learn the art of catching whatever insects are now left since I mowed it this week.

It’s hard to believe that in a week or two, and possibly as soon as the current ridge of high pressure dissipates and it begins to cool down, they will be off on their 5,000 mile to South Africa, taking about six weeks and feeding on the wing. After a seven mile jaunt to the Jurassic Coast heir first landfall is France, maybe 120 miles away, and they’ll then skirt Eastern Spain to Morocco, cross the Sahara and the Congo rain forest. Some may starve on the way, but I doubt any will get lost, barring freak storms.

They cover around 200 miles a day, with stopovers at traditional roosts where food is plentiful. And of course the most remarkable thing is that nobody needs to show them the way.

This year it’s hard not to make comparisons with how we are currently educating our own kids, and the situations in the human lands the birds are crossing. As for the latter, sub-Saharan Africa has done better than most parts of the world regarding COVID itself, but our lockdowns have devastated their economies. Morocco’s problems have led to a coup this year, Congo has been experiencing Civil War forever, and South Africa, as even the mainstream media has reported, has had its unstable politics exacerbated by the COVID restrictions.

But my swallows will be oblivious to all that – perhaps there may even be less time for folks in Africa to take pot-shots at them as they pass. They need no vaccine passports to cross the borders, and will be able to mix freely with their relatives flying in from other northern climes as far East as Israel and beyond (where even the Psalmist was delighted with the freedom with which they nested even within the sacred temple of Solomon). No doubt various avian epidemics have occurred in the aeons of time in which these migrations have been established, but they have got through them and flourished without draconian laws, police brutality or experimental vaccines. Not one of them falls to the ground apart from the will of your Father in heaven.

Meanwhile, the youngsters themselves have been free to pursue all the learning that is necessary for them to become fully-fledged members of the Swallow Guild. Nobody’s been forbidding their migration, still less confining them to stable, or masking them for no good reason, or injecting them with noxious chemicals supposedly to protect the adults, or maybe to stop the RSPB being overwhelmed. There are no signs of anxiety or sociophobia in my four, nor were there the other two broods successfully raised in the other nests in the stable, as my own grandchildren were poked and pinged into seeing “the virus” as perhaps the central fact of their short lives.

Anthropomorphic the thought may be may be, but it would still be nice to join them as they gather on the telegraph wires over the next fortnight or so, and then to take my chances with them on a real adventure, old as time, with no deceit mixed in and the promise of an exotic goal at the end. Though maybe God has given us one of our own, with just as many dangers and a far better final destination.

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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