The baby swallows have fledged. They come out of Margaret's three-story barn on the rise across the street from us. Swoop out and fly around in little packs. Their flight is different from the lone gliding pursuits of their parents over the summer fields. These guys fly up, then turn not-so- gracefully, as if they're playing, or else just not very good at flying.
They perch on the electric wire that runs from the street pole to my daughter Josephine's corner of our house, and I hear them at dusk through the baby monitor. There they sit - three, four, maybe five of them - chattering glibly, happily, about who knows what. Their breasts do seem more puffed out than their sleek swallow elders, and their tail feathers, not yet long and forked, somehow make them look stubbier, cheekier. I watch them with joy and sadness, for in them I see the end of summer, their leaving and the quiet, the worry that they might not be back next summer. That great barn will be empty.
What will fill the emptiness? There are nests in all the eaves, spattered droppings, down feathers in dusty hay, thin sunlight. The cavernous gloom reaches up three stories with no echo. No swallow voices, chattering voices, the prattle of fledglings in joy and delight.
Josephine laughs, forces the laughter with a falseness that annoys me, but she keeps it up because it makes our infant, Nina, laugh, too. And through Jo's fake laughter comes true exuberance, a burbling energy of child in flight.
"Mom, watch me run! I can run really fast." She circles the kitchen, her shoulders holding up her little bent arms, pumping her around and around. She pants as she thinks people must do when running hard, and she says, "I'm running really fast! I'm getting lots of energy!"
The swallows swoop away from the house in a silent caress over the emerald fields, the energy of smooth freedom. Bobolinks punctuate the green, burbling song into the wind, singing their broods out of ground nests and up into the air. Once they fledge, they are safe. Safe from predators and the tractor haying our fields.
I turn my face and mind from that possibility. We've asked Frank to wait until the bobolinks have fledged. Does he know? Do we?
Josephine sits on the floor. "I can do it, I can do it!" she shouts. "I can do it!" she insists to me sitting before her. And she threads her legs through her Barney underpants. Barney, that purple dinosaur who is her incentive, a symbol of freedom to her.
"I can do it." She concentrates on her shorts, her shoes, her toothbrush. Then she jumps off the bathroom stool, swoops and dives, and runs around the room, making an energetic sound that is the outlet of exuberance, the voice of flight.
Just as quickly she alights, focuses on her trains, connecting them one by one, cradling them if they fall, mirroring in tender moments the care that I have given her. She nurses her elephant at night when we read a book before bed. It will be years before she is gone, but she is fledgling now, always fledgling. Fledge. I love the sound of that word.