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 shoot 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, spring, and fall moving according to natures’ cycle of seasons, making one wonder where we fit in this enormous circle 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, a silhouette of 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, and eating tiny insects. Making Buddhist hand poses that passed me bye, and became the hands of Chinese sword dancers- invisible limbs gliding toward unknown trajectories, manipulating themselves and maneuvering toward their destination.
All I do is hike along the trail on this barren Los Angeles hill, where wild grass has turned golden, and diving birds that brush their breast against the long narrow leaves with pointed beak to the heavens. Ivory bellied cliff swallows with rust colored throats, like a four fingered hand making a W that slashes the edges of the dried desert grass, manicuring the mounds, and wicking away tiny locust that jump out of the bristles of golden wheat. 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 stomach touching your throat. Diving into a dense fog of humanity with feathers being at its control, and nimbly swimming through the wind like Kamikaze divers. Swerving down a winding road like a wild skateboarder, in absolute control of its moves. Yet all that moves are my legs that fight against gravity with every rise and push of the knee.
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 the red coral sky, dancing in the air and ceremoniously waving at the sun as it sinks down, becoming shadow puppets that are alive, saying goodbye to day-time. But there is more to be told, because on a trip to the Northwest, it was blue martins and green swallows that I saw. Glimmering martins wearing lapis lazuli that kept circling 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 strokes of shimmering indigo were the birds that flew around the granite pillars, performing a midday light show welcoming this southern visitor.
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- a shimmering metallic green. They probably spend their time diving between the plateaus of Oregon and Washington the wide Columbia River gorge. Sidewinding like a roller coaster through the air, free to move anywhere opposite to where the summer winds go, and maybe occasionally swooping down to get a sip of water. I’ve only advanced a few feet, trudging up the hill slowly reaching the top, to see the skyline, and these migratory birds compel my mind, involuntarily springing forth memories that become one endless connection between past and present. These tree swallows are quite a wonder making you think 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 of the wind take me up, drifting with the jet streams of time, and then, maybe then, I’d reach the top of the highest mountain.