The Grace of the World

Early last summer I witnessed something until then I had only read about: A tree swallow playing with a downy white feather it had found for its nest. As I watched, the swallow would toss the feather from its beak into the air, then loop back to catch it as it drifted down, then toss it, then catch it, again and again.

I later read that some bird experts suggest this behavior is a mating display, but in this case there was no mate around to impress. It seemed to me for all the world that the swallow behaved this way simply for the sheer pleasure of it. It certainly gave me pleasure to see it.

There’s a danger in imposing human emotions and attributes on the natural world—literary critics call it the pathetic fallacy. But even Cornell University’s online bird guide agrees that sparrows “seem to play” in this way. Who am I to argue?

When my mind is uneasy in unsettled times, I am grateful for moments, like this one with the playful swallow, that invite me to cast my gaze outward. Despite it all, there is a great, good, green world out there, spinning right along. The generous earth yields its harvest. All the world’s creatures live their lives of wild domesticity. Nature delights in itself. And as for me?

“…I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”