A month ago, I had a perfect moment in one of our city's many wonderful parks. It happened around 11 am on a Saturday that surprised the city with a nearly clear sky. This year's spring, as everyone in Seattle knows, could not shake off winter. It was January in March. January in April. January even in May and part of June.
But that Saturday, spring broke free and tried to reach 60 degrees. It only failed to do so because, at least in Columbia City's Genesee Park, the wind constantly cooled the heat of the sun. The magic of that late morning was produced by the combination of this weather, the small birds that had just arrived from the Southern Hemisphere, and the tall grass and leafy trees that surrounded the picnic shelter in the part of the park that extends to Lake Washington.
The south-blown wind, the grass waves, the glossy blue of the swallows darting above wheat-like seeds, the animated trees in the distance, the wispy stretch of a cirrus cloud high in the sky. I was lost in this moment for a good hour-and-a-half.
On the walk back home, a blue-backed swallow circled me before shooting in the direction of the shed for a machine that pumps methane out of the old and still decomposing garbage below the park. (This area was a landfill until 1963.) At night, a blue flower in a dream grew from the black hairs of my armpit. The next day, I returned to the park to find the sun gone, and the swallows and much of the tall grasses were gone with it. Why do Americans love slashing grass so much? I wondered.
"We actually work with Seattle's park department on this," said Constance Sidles, a master birder and key member of the Seattle Audubon Society, over the phone. "Some of our parks have birds that nest in tall grass. The grass protects their nests. Makes it hard for predators to find them. This is why in some parks, the grass is only cut after breeding season."
But this was not the answer I was looking for. I had contacted Sidles to see if this bad grass-cutting business made life difficult for my favorite bird. I knew that swallows eat insects while flying. They open their great big mouths, fly just above the ground, catch as many insects as they can, and then soar toward sky, careen in the sky, and dive toward the ground again for my bugs. Indeed, it's estimated that some swallows fly 600 miles a day hunting for insects in this spectacular way.
Sidles wasn't sure if cutting grass made much of a difference for these little, synanthropic birds. What they liked was a clearing, or a lake, and also tree tops.
"But the swallows were gone when I returned to the park on that Sunday," I explained. "It had to be the grass. They found it was cut and left. Isn't that a real possibility?"
"This was in May, right?" Sidles asked.
"Yes," I answered.
"You most likely saw swallows that were making a quick stop on their way to British Columbia or farther north, Alaska," she said. "They do that. They know the spots with food. Visit them, eat, and continue their journey. The swallows you usually see in the park may not have arrived at that time, or maybe they picked a new location."
Sidles then described the migration of swallows in much the same way a poet of the ancient world might have recounted the feats of a mythical warrior. The swallow flies thousands of miles, the risk of starvation is ever-present, and they encounter predators such as falcons, which are fast enough to catch them if they are exhausted or sick.
But why did my park have to cut the grass in the first place?
The top answer I received came from an employee of Genesee Park. They (and they did not want to be named—they simply picked up my cold call) told me that the tall grass posed a fire hazard, particularly during the 4th of July.
Fireworks are, of course, illegal in Seattle and now in all of King County, but they are still sold, bought, and exploded. Though I could not get information about the total number of park fires caused by those blasted rockets, Roman Candles, sparklers, Catherine Wheels, and what have you, Kristin Tinsley, the Seattle Fire Department's senior communications manager, informed me that "from July 3-5, 2021, [the department] responded to 15 confirmed fireworks-related fires, and one injury caused by fireworks... The vast majority were brush fires, and one firework that went off inside a home."
Tinsley concluded by encouraging people not to break the law and instead "watch a professional fireworks show or find other ways to celebrate the holiday."
And this brings me to what has become the point of this post. At first, I wanted to write about the beauty and greatness and supernatural dexterity of swallows. Then I wanted to write about how much I hated America's obsession with grass cutting. Then I wanted to write about how awful/dangerous/unnecessary fireworks are. But, with the recent rulings pouring out of the packed Supreme Court, an institution that seems to have more power than all of our governing bodies combined, the question is this: What's to celebrate on July 4?
The Jackson Women's Health Organization, the abortion clinic at the centre of the US Supreme Court's momentous decision to overturn #RoevsWade, is carrying out its final abortions before it will be forced to close its doors on July 4 pic.twitter.com/WdIPuXXQ63— FRANCE 24 English (@France24_en) June 27, 2022
The sane among us usually just hate the war-like pandemonium of citywide, illegal fireworks. We also know that our animals feel exactly the same way. But this year, these bangs, sizzles, whistles, and explosions will represent a joy that cannot be justified in any way.
How can you be a liberal and light a firework? Where is the room for this expression of American freedom? What is there to like about America today? The large majority of its citizens did not want to overturn Roe v. Wade, but the decision to do so was forced down our throats anyway. The line between church and state was erased by a ruling concerning a Christian coach in Bremerton. Police officers are now no longer liable for reading your rights. States lost the power to determine gun laws. The Environmental Protection Agency is about to get gutted. Our president is doing practically nothing about these shocking developments.
She’s not wrong.👇🏼 pic.twitter.com/8mJDZIR2dZ— Fernand R. Amandi (@AmandiOnAir) June 25, 2022
Each firework I hear this year will only be more depressing than the one that preceded it.