The Absence of the Swallows


Drop some oil into a large pool of surface water.  Watch as it slowly bleeds and swirls, dispersing, yet unable to be truly absorbed, accommodated.  It moves slowly, yet purposefully; expansively: and that is the very same image I can see before me, as I gaze up at a gloom September sky, that moves like an unearthly liquid.

I can’t ascertain whether it is cloud, rain or merely haze, but the sky pulses today, as it licks over the embers of slowly dying moorland.  And despite this movement, the air feels listless and lifeless; barren, devoid, empty.  And it is the loss of the swallows, that provides the punctuation on this thought.

Only a few weeks prior, the sky overhead was a chalky blue, washed with soft white clouds that drifted aimlessly and happily through cool evening air.  Against this sheet music, the graceful arcs and sweeps of swallows played out a natural music for the eyes; an orchestra of flight, grace and silent triumph.


But today, an emptiness.  An absence that is felt, in ways weightier than the lightness of their presence.  I wonder where they are; what they are doing?  Whether they ever think of these fields, and the hours they spent sweeping over them?  I think of them, here, and now.  I gaze across fields that transition into moorland, and lament their loss.

My legs take on their own rhythm, and I slip into a gait that is comfortable and effortless.  Today, it is my eyes that are doing all of the work, drinking in every last vestige of what once was verdant.  Summer is over, and autumn is here.  Yet I always feel that autumn never truly ‘arrives’; this beautiful season is far too transitional to remain still, or stable, to definitively arrive.

The grasses that sprang forth from lichen-covered walls with such verdant energy, are now yellow, white and brown.  Leggy, tired, defeated: I can relate.


How strange, as they hunch and bend over themselves.  Such weightless things, yet the stalks of spent energy now appear to carry an invisible force of great magnitude.  Their swansong is as stark as the clouds that gather above my head.

I see a piece of wood that is too large to be labelled a twig, or indeed, a stick, and yet too small to be described as a log.  It is covered in the most wonderful greenish and blueish lichen – veritably covered – and has the appearance of scales; a snake of the most exquisite delicate patterns and textures.  I run my hand across it and marvel at the beauty of its cool sensation.

I continue on my way, and take heart from the various ferns that protrude from dry-stone walls.  Autumn is a time of visual and visceral decay, yet a thousand observations combine to form a unique beauty that is there for those that seek it with open eye and honest soul.

AutumnCallum Saunders