Barn Swallows

This chapter acts as foreshadowing to the long sad process of Williams’ mother’s death. She introduces the bird by saying that her mother is finishing her six month chemotherapy treatment and that, with life slowly going back to normal, she’s starting to take her mother’s continued life for granted again. She says she once saw a barn swallow stuck in a wire fence and she wanted to save it, but she knew the bird was going to die. She decides to free it from the fence, and the bird, exhausted from fighting to free itself for so long, dies. She says that suffering is caused not by dying, but by resisting death, foreshadowing that fighting cancer is going to cause a lot more suffering.

The barn swallow is notable for making its nests almost exclusively in man made structures. They’ve been noted to form a symbiotic relationship with ospreys as they nest close together. The osprey help defend the swallow nests to help protect their own, and the swallows will chirp loudly and alert the ospreys to intruders. They were also once called “a useful friend to the farmer” by ornithologist Arthur C. Bent in Life Histories of Familiar North American Birds because, as an insectivore they helped cull the insect population (this was of course before the widespread use of insecticides in agriculture began to threaten their food source. They also love to fly. They can do almost any task while flying, including eating, drinking, and even mating in the air.

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