The Heart-Stopping Beauty of the Swift
Innate genius, and press-ups
Hello. This post is about Birds. And it touches on Death. I didn’t intend it to, but Death seems kind of unavoidable…👀
This week, I met a Swift for the first time. I had seen Swifts before, soaring across the skies in the UK from early May, but I had never seen one up close. This is because Swifts very rarely land—they literally eat, drink, bathe, mate, and sleep on the wing; staying airborne for 10 months at a time1. If that fact is new to you, I highly encourage pausing for a second to take it in.
Swifts leave the UK in July & August to fly 6000 miles or so to Sub-Saharan Africa, where they spend the winter. They are incredibly fast flyers, with top speeds of 70 miles (112km) per hour.
The Swift I met has an injured back leg, and is currently unable to fly. Meeting this majestic being up-close is hard to describe. I have never been to Vatican City, but I know that it houses one of Michelangelo’s most seminal sculptures; the Pieta. It depicts the moment following Christ’s crucifixion, when his body had been taken from the cross and given to Mary, to hold. That this work of art was carved from a singular piece of marble (Michelangelo called it the most perfect block of marble he had ever used), and that it was created by Michelangelo when he was just 23 years old, continually stuns me. The piece itself is literally breath-taking.
I reference this because I found myself having a similar response to seeing this Swift up-close. The design of his wings, so precise, so perfect, like something I had only ever seen before in art history books. The strength in his working leg extraordinary. The shape of his head, his tiny beak (sitting deceptively at the front of a large mouth—all the better to eat on the wing with) and with an expression that, to me, suggests he knows an awful lot more about freedom, determination and the natural way of things than I could ever hope to.
Heart-stopping beauty abounds. May we all have the courage, and the discipline, to attune to it.
Baby Swifts spend around the first six weeks of their lives in the nest. When they successfully leave the nest, they take to the air and make the trip to Africa. How is it that a bird can be born, know only the confines of its nest, and then take immediately to the sky for a whole 10 months? Innate genius, it would seem. Innate genius, and press-ups. I’m not kidding, baby Swifts do wing-press-ups so that they have the strength to fly like pros on their first go. Check this out:
So, now to the Death bit, I suppose. Thinking of innate genius got me thinking about something that Stephen Jenkinson (author, teacher, activist, poet, and my mentor—unknown to him) wrote in his book Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul:
“Dying is a natural thing, and left to its natural self each living thing knows how to die. The body has the genius of a natural thing, and it knows how to obey the accumulation of time, wear and tear, disease and symptoms.”
Indeed. The Swift innately knows to build his muscles in preparation for a trip that he innately knows he will take. Birds innately know how to make nests. It would seem that human stem cells innately know which type of cell to become (they’re still trying to figure that one out). The body has the genius of a natural thing. There is so much information, so much genius, available to us (natural things that we are) which is drowned out by the noise of the supposed normality that we have been sold.
May you notice the beauty by which you are surrounded.
May you hear and trust the wisdom which resides, innately, within you.
And, please, may you say a little prayer for the healing of our Swift friend.
Thank you ❤️
Swifts bathe by flying, slowly, through falling rain—a most soothing thought.