I am watching a friend while he drives his tractor and pulls a sixty- inch wide mower. He is cutting his hay field of some forty acres. Above, a midsummer sun coasts lazily through an azure sky as man and machine move noisily back and forth. Sweet smelling grass lies in pleasing, uniform swathes and soothes the sounds and smoke from mowing.
At the same time, a gaggle of Purple Martins weave in tight, wildly erratic patterns about those implements. Their numbers are hard to ascertain as their wheeling, diving yet graceful movements make them difficult to count. At first glance, their wild maneuvering appears to be indicative of frustration with the tractor’s presence. These seemingly fearless fighter jets of the bird world swirl in individual patterns within inches of the machine and its operator, only to bank sharply and return for pass after pass. Described by graceful silhouettes, their flights encompass every imaginable angle while staying within a few feet of the methodical tractor and its trailing mower. Yet, their collective flying on dark- tipped wings never results in collisions or intimidations and my friend continues his work unimpeded. It takes a few minutes for me to understand what these lovely, aerodynamic creatures are actually doing.
As the growling tractor makes its even cuts through the pasture, I notice that myriads of insects are rudely evicted from their respective hiding and feeding places. Those not engulfed by the mower blades boil into helter-skelter flights with both alarm and escape on their minds. Their explosive scattering occurs in every possible trajectory, a continual fireworks of six-legged frenzy. In turn, the Martins are taking advantage of this easier- than- usual opportunity to feast upon the displaced insects. Occasionally the birds take a break in proximity to the ongoing harvest, perching in a straight line on a telephone wire that crosses overhead. Their rest periods are brief though, as they remain almost incessantly on the wing, swarming about the moving tractor and its offering.
By taking a slower pace, I am able to witness this symbiotic relationship between a human endeavor and Nature. I am fortunate and these observations make me smile. I think about a rather common insult, “bird brain” and I realize there should be some revisionist thought given to this derisive term. ‘Bird brain’ should represent a sincere compliment.