Has summer arrived where you are then?
I’m not calling it for sure yet but I thought I saw my first swallow this week. Although in fairness to their less glamorous cousins, it might have been a swift. Or a martin; my glasses were at home and the puppy was chewing at my shoelaces.
It was high and fast and unmistakably one of the three though, dancing giddy musical notes on the power line staves – a high wire hymn to the miracle of migration.
Reader, I’m not ashamed to admit it – I yelped with delight.
They say the pandemic has made many of us appreciate nature more and for me this annual milestone felt even more like a gift than usual.
I managed to capture a few seconds of it on my phone’s camera and posted the video on Twitter. Because it’s 2021 and like that philosophical tree falling soundlessly in an empty forest, can an event actually be said to have happened these days unless it’s been marked on social media?
Too high, too fast to say for sure if it was a swallow, a swift or a martin but they're back and isn't that a sight for sore eyes 💙 pic.twitter.com/I85owByze9
— Morag Lindsay (@morag_lindsay) May 10, 2021
Friends quickly replied, sharing their own sightings. Dozens over the North Esk at the weekend… On the high moor at home in Angus the day before… Later than they have ever been on Deeside but here at last.
“The swallows came back to my garden last night!” exclaimed a pal in the Mearns. “Sixteen days earlier than last year :)”
And it made me happy to picture us all, marking our calendars and eyeing the sky with hearts full of hope. Another of those ways we’ve found to be together after the year Covid-19 did its damnedest to drive us apart.
Sky brimming with joy
I noted their arrival last spring too, I remember it as clear as day. And of course, it’s on Twitter if I ever need to check.
April 19 2020: just weeks into the novelty of the first lockdown. I was walking the old dog, whose place the puppy is doing her best to fill, by the river and suddenly there they were. A sky brimming with joy.
I remember wondering what they’d made of their journey back from Africa, if it was just our world that felt quieter and stiller or if they’d noticed it in their birds’ eye view of a continent changed by the coronavirus.
We’d started to get a sense of what was coming by then. Opera being belted out from balconies in quarantined Italian neighbourhoods while the bodies piled up in Spanish mortuaries.
But really we had no idea.
Time has bent in weird ways since last spring. It sometimes seems like yesterday; there have been so few of the occasions that usually mark the passing of the seasons. At other moments it feels like I’ve aged 10 years.
Headlines declaring ‘Hugging allowed from Monday’ might once have been the stuff of bad sci-fi. Now they’re hailed as a breakthrough for personal freedoms – a sign of how weird our lives have become.
And on we spin
The swallows don’t go in for that airy fairy philosophising of course. They follow the magnetic fields and go where the insects are.
Heaven knows what shape they’ll find us in next spring, or even what they’ll leave behind when the last one slips off unnoticed in the autumn.
But here they are again. And the world kept spinning – even if it felt like it was tumbling out of control for a while. And there’s something quite comforting about that.
On Tuesday I spoke to Bashir Chohan, the chairman of the Dundee Islamic Society, as he and his friends neared the end of the second Ramadan of the pandemic.
Coronavirus restrictions meant worshippers had been unable to gather at the mosque for the traditional evening meal to break fast during the holy month, so volunteers had prepared food for the younger members of the congregation to deliver to vulnerable people every day.
We couldn’t be together in the usual manner, Mr Chohan told me, but doing this brought us together in a way we couldn’t have imagined before.
Eid, which marks the end of Ramadan, is as big a day as Christmas in his faith, he explained, and families would be pulling out all the stops on Thursday to make it as special as possible under the circumstances.
I thought of that as I watched the scenes in Kenmure Street in Glasgow that day as hundreds of members of the public came together in a peaceful protest to block the removal of two asylum seekers by Immigration Enforcement officers.
Call me a cynic, but for the UK Government Home Office to attempt to mount a dawn raid in Pollokshields as its MSP, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, was being sworn into the Scottish Parliament and the largely Muslim community was celebrating Eid, feels a little too on the nose to be coincidental.
1/ Today’s events were entirely down to @ukhomeoffice actions. @policescotland were in an invidious position – they do not assist in the removal of asylum seekers but do have a duty to protect public safety. They act independently of ministers, but I support this decision https://t.co/9SCNGa6tpy
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) May 13, 2021
The cruelty is the point, as they used to say about the worst of former US President Donald Trump’s policies.
By teatime, the two Sikh men had been released from the immigration enforcement van and members of the crowd, who had blocked its path for more than seven hours chanting “These are our neighbours, let them go,” were walking with them and human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar to the mosque.
Togetherness eh. It’s a powerful thing. And there’s hope there too, if you look for it.