Barn swallows’ exit is right on time


In the barn this morning, the silence was deafening.

Since May 25, barn swallows have kept the rafters ringing with their cheerful chatter and impromptu squadron flights.

Accustomed to my presence and Winnie’s, they seemed to respond to my “Pretty birds!” greetings, and I could stand quite near — at a safe distance, if you know what I mean — without their leaving.

As the summer lengthened, there were more and more of them and it was almost like being in the Hitchcock film Birds as they whirled and swooped overhead.

I knew just where their various nests were, some new, some last year’s, so I knew just where to place the plastic over the concrete floor. It is much easier to clean plastic than concrete.

A few stragglers

This morning, Aug. 26, no squadrons. No cheerful chattering. Four stragglers, probably the last hatch, which I had watched snuggle together on a rafter just the other day, were then surely making plans to leave.

On last August’s calendar, I had written beside the 27th, “Last four baby swallows ready to leave.” Beside Aug. 30, I had written, “Swallows gone.”

How amazing that their calendars coincided with mine. I do enjoy keeping track of their comings and goings, and I have thoroughly enjoyed their presence.

Now I must clean up after them — but don’t we have to do that when any guests leave?

* * *

By now, we are in the midst of Canfield Fair, and I can’t tell you what I saw and did because I haven’t been there yet. Next column!

* * *


Was hoping to get through the summer without a bee incident, but no such luck. I don’t know if they are bees or wasps or hornets but there are lots of whatever they are going under the siding behind the back bedroom.

My good neighbor and friend, Glenn Anthony, who does so much to help me, has volunteered to come at the crack of dawn and spray them. We’ll try this several mornings, and if that doesn’t work we’ll have to call in the big guns.

* * *

Torture methods

Certainly we are all horrified at some of the torture methods used to hopefully “extract” information from so-called terrorists, and there is much in the news these days about who authorized what, etc.

In an article from Colonial Williamsburg, author James A. Cox delved into crime and punishment in 1611 in Jamestown, Va. Water boarding seems mild compared to some of their methods.

“Every Virginia minister was required to read the Articles (cq), Lawes (cq) and orders to his congregation every Sunday and, among other things, parishioners were reminded that failure to attend church twice each day was punishable in the first instance by the loss of a day’s food. A second offense was punishable by a whipping and a third by six months of rowing in the colony’s galleys.”

Records tell of “hundreds of colonial sinners forced to sit in the stocks in public view.”

When a servant named Samuel Powell stole a pair of breeches, he was sentenced to “sitt (cq) in the stocks on the next Sabbath day from the beginnings of morning prayer until the end of the sermon with a pair of breeches about his necke.”

Ducking stool

A ducking stool was “a seat set at the end of two beams 12 or 15 feet long that could be swung out from the bank of a pond or river.”

This punishment was assigned to “scolds, slanderers, brawlers, women of light carriage — ? — unruly paupers and sometimes to quarrelsome married couples tied back to back.”

And there was the “gossip bridle,” a heavy iron cage that covered the tongue; a flat tongue of iron sometimes spiked was thrust into the mouth over the criminal’s tongue.

“Less sophisticated areas made do with a simpler machine — a cleft stick pinched on the tongue.” Either system pretty much ensured silence.

There were branding irons for burglary and many other offenses, and there was the pillory, “an upright board hinged or divided in half with a hole in which the head was set fast, it usually also had two openings for the hands. Often the ears were nailed to the wood on either side of the head hole, with three nails in each ear…”

“Civilized” country

And we were considered a “civilized” country to which one could come for safety. There is much more information on this homegrown torture, but we’ll let it go because we don’t want the CIA to get ideas!

* * *

Crickets and katydids are the virtuosos of the night music now, taking over when the cicadas — we always just called them locusts — ease off as the sun goes down.

Apache and Toby are already beginning to “fur up” in anticipation of cooler weather, but for the moment the extra clothing is a bit too warm.

Mowing is easier now since you don’t have to be quite so neat around trees where the grass is already shorter, and comfort on the couch in the evening sometimes requires a light throw — rather than upping the thermostat.

Seasons still on track

How did it get to be so late in the year? While we were definitely short-changed by summer when it was supposed to be summer, the higher temperatures of the last several days let us know that the cycling of the seasons is still on track, if slightly wobbly!

* * *

“Strength is the ability to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands — and then eat just one of those pieces.”

— Judith Viorst

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  1. Hello, May I bother you for information on The White Saddle and offspring. I loved Mrs. Millers book when I was younger. “Tom” came to my gradeschool in Mt. Vernon, Oh. around 1969 +/-. He autographed my book for me, but at the time of his presentation I didn’t understand exactly who he was. Guess I was too young. I still keep the book on a shelf. I have questions that I have always wanted to ask but didn’t know “where” to go to ask them. I would love to read more history about the fairs of that time and about the Whitesaddles races. News paper articles, etc. Any history about Tom, that would not be prying, and his days of racing would be great. Are any of Whitesaddles offspring alive today? Could you point me in the right direction please? I have no ulterior motives. Just a love of the story and its time. I had a Shetland myself for a while, but we had to move from our farm and he went elsewhere. Anyway, please forgive my rambling and thank you for your kind consideration. I also wanted to say that I enjoy your column. I just found it a few minutes ago, but anything about barns and farmlife, nowadays, is a real treasure. Thank you again.


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