Drifting Swallows: Hirundinidae of the Mind
By Armando Ortiz
If I were to choose a bird to become, then a migrating swallow would be the choice. They cut through the air, as I climb the old Culver City stairs dirt trail, and bring back scenes of things I once saw. These passerine birds travel and wander from north to south during winter and spring, moving according to natures’ change of season, making one wonder where we fit in this enormous cycle of life.
I see Hirundinidae travel high across the lavender sage sky, towards the eastern horizon that’s splashed with hibiscus. Flying, flapping its wings, like the hands of a gypsy belly dancer, black hands swaying in midair, swirling like the martins I saw in China; gliding and diving fast, inches above the edge of hills and slopes, centimeters from the surface of Weiming Lake, catching food, eating tiny insects. Making Buddhist hand poses that glided bye, becoming the hands of Chinese sword dancers, invisible limbs gliding toward unknown trajectories, manipulating themselves and maneuvering toward their destination.
All I do is walk the trail along this barren Los Angeles hill, where wild grass has turned golden, and these diving birds brush their breast against the long narrow leaves with pointed beak to the heavens. Cliff swallows with ivory bellies, light rusted throats, like a four fingered hand making a W that swishes the edges of the dried spring grass, manicuring the mounds, and wicking away tiny locust that jump out of the bristles of golden pastures. Starting from some imaginary peak above the highest point of the hill, and freely letting gravity take hold- like a roller coaster that goes down that steep fall, only feathers being at its control, and nimbly swimming in the wind like a Kamikaze diver, swerving down the slopes like a wild skateboarder, in absolute control of its moves. Yet all that moves within me are the legs that fight against gravity with every rise and push of the knee.
But they continue to pass me bye, flapping, scissor shaped bodies that cut the onshore breeze that moves east as the sun slumbers down the horizon. The silhouette of these migratory birds, black against red coral, dancing in the air and ceremoniously waving at the sun as it sinks down, like shadow puppets, alive, saying goodbye to day-time.
But there is more to be told, because on a trip to the Northwest, it was martins and swallows that I saw, but this time royal blue they were. Glimmering martins covered in lapis lazuli that kept circling round and around me as I walked toward Jimi Hendrix’s grave. I even had the chance to record this very miracle, where royal purple was the main color of the flowers growing along the edge of his memorial, and shimmering indigo, were the birds that flew around the granite pillars.
Along that same trip, I saw smaller versions of these swallows, but green was their garb, a green that was closer to emerald or maybe metallic green, but not as deep and dark as a quetzal or ocean green. They probably spent their time diving from the plateaus between Oregon and Washington that make the giant Columbia River gorge. Sidewinding and roller coasting through the air, free to move anywhere they the winds go, and maybe occasionally swooping down to get a sip of the water. It has only been a few feet that I have climbed up the hill, to the top, to see the skyline, and these migratory birds compelled my mind, involuntarily springing forth memories that seem to become one endless connection between past and present. These tree swallows are quite a wonder making you consider if it’s bad to be envious of such a wanderer. If even for a second I could be, then I’d tilt my wings on an angle and let the force take me up, drifting with the jet streams of time, and then maybe then, I’d reach the top of the highest mountain.