Im going back to Seattle, to Seattle, to Seattle... Naw, I dont think so.
"I'm going back to Seattle, to Seattle, to Seattle... Naw, I don't think so." Jeff Huth / GETTY

The bird that makes the most sense to me is the swallow. This passerine (three toes in the front, one in the back) has that size the mad judge in the famous short story by Guy de Maupassant could squeeze to silence with one hand.

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s The Nutcracker is Back Onstage at McCaw Hall! Tickets start at $27.
Join PNB for a timeless tale of holiday adventure performed by PNB’s amazing dancers and orchestra.

Swallows visit Seattle during the summer. They spend winter in South America. The stars guide their trips between the continents.

Lately, however, Seattle has experienced a sharp (if not catastrophic) decline in the number of returning swallows. Those in the know attribute this new and dire development to, of course, the transition from one hyperobject (the Holocene) to another (the Capitalocene). The latter is more and more making nonsense of weather patterns that 12 or so thousand stable years have imprinted on the deep (or genetic) memory of these birds.

Also in the deep memory of some swallows (the barn swallow, the cliff swallow, the tree swallow) are the habits and culture of humans. This makes them as synanthropic as crows or pigeons. They belong to the city and other human-built environments. Our barns, homes, bridges, freeways, and what have you provide shelter for their mud-hard nests. And these birds love nothing more than the areas humans have cleared for one reason or another. Removing shrubs or leveling the grass makes it easier for them to eat the only way they know how: during flight. This, their defining species modality, is what makes them so special. To catch and eat flying insects while flying requires an agility that is not only thrilling but also intellectually stimulating.

The way these birds suddenly shoot up to the sky or shoot down after darting across the edge of a body of water, such as Lake Washington, or a field, such as Genesee Park, speaks to the soul, which is time-being (or arrivalism—a bit about that in a moment).

Gravity means nothing in their world. They punch holes into reality in the manner of particles in the quantum realm. And watching them makes one think that this is indeed exactly how one wants to think.

The greatest English-language philosopher of the 20th century, Alfred North Whitehead, wrote in his 1929 masterpiece Process and Reality:

The true method of [intellectual] discovery is like the flight of an aeroplane. It starts from the ground of particular observation; it makes a flight in the thin air of imaginative generalization; and it again lands for renewed observation rendered acute by rational interpretation.

But all of this sounds boring if one considers the kind of discovery that's possible with the flight of a swallow in mind. And this is really the point of this post. It's also the reason why I spend so much time watching these blue and brown/barn and cliff birds fly from the shelter in northeast section of Genesee Park.

A Seattle park shelter surrounded by swallows in summer...
A Seattle park shelter surrounded by swallows in summer... Charles Mudede

Now, in the essay "Interrogating the Concept of Time among the Shona: A Postcolonial Discourse," Francis Muchenje, Ruth Barbra Gora, and Ngoni Makuvaza (Zimbabwean scholars) explain that for Shona people, old people are held "in high esteem... since they have seen more of the days (light)" and are therefore "able to give direction."

The insight of this way of thinking is exceptional. It means that one does not just experience the day, but also the day becomes them. And the more daylight you experience, the more light is in you to see what's ahead. My theory of arrivalism, which I explained in a brief 2009 post (I also call it point-being or time-being), also squares with the Shona conception of experience described by the Zimbabwean scholars.

My words:

The self is that which makes the folds and layers of time into one. The illusion of the all-at-once is the [real] self. The point at which starlight, streetlights, a person seen in a window of a lit room, the swaying of a branch, the bat above the house—what collapses these near and distant happenings into the one moment is the self.

Another formulation of my and the Shona concept is found in the work of 20th century physicist David Bohm, the hapless theorist of hidden variables.

Support The Stranger

What I call the "point of arrival" he formulates as one part of two modes of experience: enfoldment and unfoldment. (The former concerns what he calls the implicate order and the latter the explicate order.) What he means by this is that moments in explicate time are enfolded in implicate time. (I call the transition from one to the other the point of arrival.)

So, the sun of today makes you brighter by nature because it's enfolded (becomes inward) with, say, yesterday's bright day. And so what is external is not just outside and stays outside, but is constantly in the process of becoming one, the person, the you who you are in the you (implicate) that we all see and becomes us (explicate).

In short, the more one enfolds swallows, the more swallowish their thinking becomes.