Where do the House Martins go in winter?



Suddenly they have gone – the Swallows and House Martins who have lived cheek by jowl with us all summer. Four weeks ago there was still a nest full of young birds right under the eaves in our courtyard. Delighted visitors drank their coffee and watched as the fearless parents flew in and out to feed their young. A week later they were fledged and went into heavy flying training. They were everywhere, swooping low on the ground, turning in the air, building and consolidating their strength and seeming to fill the Abbey grounds with their presence. It was as though the air was alive with a kind of wild but graceful energy and I thought to myself, heaven must be full of such delight.


And then they were gone; but not all at once. The majority left five days ago but it is only today that I have noticed they are nowhere to be seen. The Swallows have left for Cuba and South America and the House Martins will go to Africa and Asia – no one knows quite where, and we are left quieter and a bit bereft.


But they will return next year. These birds mate for life and are creatures of habit. So, hopefully, most of them will return if they do not die in their long and perilous journeys. In their lives we see the rhythm of the seasons. We see the mysterious, compelling and urgent need to leave their birthplace and travel far, far away to a distant land. But we also see continuity, intuition, faithfulness and perseverance undergirding everything, holding everything.


We are not so different. Watching our sons grow up and leave home, my husband and I are now aware of them turning to home again; not to re-turn to where they once were –life is still full of exploration ‘out there’, but to take their place in the pattern and rhythm of life alongside us, the older generation. Every young person must journey away from the place of birth in order to become his or herself – sometimes right away to a very distant land (as Jesus’ story of The Prodigal Son so keenly illustrates.) This time can be very hard on parents. Where has the child gone, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually as well? Sometimes it all goes “pear shaped” but generally speaking most of us respond to life’s inherent pattern of childhood dependency, journey outwards, journey home whilst still exploring and then the final discovery of the latter part of life that not only is “home where you start from” but that “the end of all our exploration is to arrive where we started and to know it for the first time.” We look forward to welcoming back our Swallows and House Martins in the Spring.