Magic, Remembered …

April 30, 2009

There are certain things from childhood that, as an adult, you remember in a sudden flash.  These are things that you remember, but then forget or file away and remember again and again as you get older.  Sometimes these memories are triggered by a sight, sound, smell.  Sometimes, I think, they aren’t triggered by anything specific at all, and spring out of memory for no other reason than your brain is sifting through old data to see what is still there, and tossing bits and pieces out at random, or realizes that you simply need a good memory to think about for a while.

I was outside this weekend when several barn swallows flew overhead.  I recognized them because barn swallows have a distinctive shape when in flight, with curved, pointed wings and deeply forked tails.   Sometimes you see them darting about in small groups, looking like Air Force planes in formation.

Seeing the swallows, I was reminded of a summer evening when I was about 14.  I was outside tossing a baseball in the air.  The sun was low, and it was just beginning to get dark.   As I tossed the baseball up, following it against a greying sky,  a group of several dozen swallows shot by just above me.   They surprised me, flying by so fast and low.  It seemed they were only inches above my head.

The group turned at the yard’s edge and darted right back at me, this time coming in waist high.  This was even more surprising.  The group split  in half then as they flew past, a dozen on each side, but  I could barely hear their wings beating as they went by.  I could have extended a hand and touched one of them.

They went suddenly vertical, as if turning sharply up at the corner of an “L,” and swooped back down.  They came at me again.  I laughed and ran around the yard, looking embarrassingly stupid I’m sure in my gyrations, especially as a self-conscious 14 year old.  The birds seemed to chase me back and forth no matter where I went, skittering past and shooting up into the air, and coming back.   They circled me several times, literally making me the center of a spinning wheel.  Then they would dart off to the edge of the yard in a straight line, turn, and come back.  The silence of their flight was almost eerie.

With the sun descending,  the yard seemed an almost-spooky silver.   The swallows came in low a few more times, and then went higher, about 20 feet up.  They criss-crossed the sky above me as if they were saying something to me — I know they were probably simply been eating the insects stirred up, but still — it was as if they were saying goodbye before they took off in a straight line, low over the field and gaining altitude to go above the trees and out of sight.

The whole thing had probably only lasted a few minutes.  It had seemed much longer.  But those had been amazing minutes to me.  It was more than amazing.  It was magical.

I’ve remembered that magic now and again over the years, usually triggered by seeing a barn swallow in flight, remembered in bits and pieces and then remembered again.

Magic is best remembered like that.

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