“Ah, not to be cut off,
not through the slightest partition
shut out from the law of the stars.
The inner -- what is it?
if not the intensified sky,
hurled through with birds and deep
with the winds of homecoming.”
Rainer Maria Rilke, Ahead of All Parting
I am watching for the first swallows. They would usually be here by now, this late in April, but I imagine things happening in another place; storms at sea, winds high in the atmosphere, in air too rarefied for our land-bound minds. I want to hear their chittering in the eaves to remind me that the seasons turn as they should, that this year will pass like any other.
I become beholden to this turning of the seasons, celebrating each as it passes with an air of transience, lifting my face to the sun to feel the first of the year’s warmth. Spring feels like such a gift, arriving each year like a benediction; a blessing from tender gods. I walk across fields in the paling light of evening, watching the distant hills translucent with spilled light, listening to the curlew trilling their descent into the fields. Each year the seasons pass in a stately rhythm, like a country dance, and I am soothed by this thought.
I have been pondering the idea of belonging; the way that we fit into the world, our sense of place and home which come from that. For eighteen years I have lived in this village, seen these springs come in a flourish of green. I know every turn of these lanes, know where to find the first of the violets, the shaded cuckoo pint, the wood anemone. I know the fields where the young hares will play in a month or two’s time and the sedge where snipe will roost in the winter, skittering nervously as I approach. I think of belonging as a complicated thing, as though it embraces both being and longing; a desire to be here, a pull to be elsewhere. Perhaps this is the knowledge which the swallows have: they know their place, and yet they know when it is time to move, when the shifting of the seasons calls them to another place. Perhaps what we feel with the onset of spring is the pull of transhumance, a reminder of our nomadic origins, passed across the generations.
But I am painfully aware of the shadow on the horizon. Those storms at sea, those high winds, are not the passing of random chance. I fear the year when the swallows do not arrive, or they come uncommonly early or late. I feel a duty to tell these tales before they are lost to time.
We have been handed this moment of the world like a beautiful, dappled stone; to touch, to admire, to pass on unblemished. Our work should be a celebration of the infinite beauty and subtlety of the world, but also a talisman against its slow and relentless decline; it is a festival and a wake. I write, I photograph, to assure me that all is well with the world; to remind me that it isn’t. It is our task to feel small and yet powerful in the shadow of great change; to hymn this beauty, this chaos.