By Chris Mittelstaedt
Wayne, PA, June 1981. It’s a hazy and humid gray-blue Saturday, and the summer beetles are whistle-clicking as I push the riding mower backward out from the garage. I’m in grasscutting gear—white shorts with green piping, tube socks pulled up to my knees, a blue Adidas T-shirt, mirrored sunglasses, and super-absorbent plush white-and-blue wristbands.
Halfway into my mowing, the barn swallows start to gather. They’re suburban Philly barn swallows, bred long before Valley Forge was a park, and the Pennsylvanian fields of gold summer straw were filled with office parks and houses instead of pheasant and fox.
They dive—two at first, then two more. Soon it’s an aria of slight, razor-winged birds rising and falling in concert with my mowing. Even though I don’t speak their language, I know these birds understand me. It’s a message. Something about a connection between what is natural and what is built by human hands: I have a special power. I’m the Doctor Doolittle of suburban Philadelphia—there’s no doubt that yo hablo barn swallow! It brings tears to my eyes.
My sister, watching from the window (and who later claimed I was yelling and ducking hysterically while flapping my arms and controlling the lawn mower with my knees), makes sure she’s there when I pull the mower into the garage. “I talked with the birds!” I tell her, excitedly. I add, in a whisper, “I have a gift.” “Chris,” she says matter-of-factly. “They eat the bugs that you kick up when you cut the grass.”
Nature speaks to us in many languages depending on where you live. For example, right now it is loquacious on the West Coast—chatting away with Ed McGee’s white-flesh nectarines from Vernalis, CA, and Olson Family Farms’ Candy Red yellow peaches from Kingsburg, CA.
The east and central parts of the United States are well over being tongue-tied by spring and are in chorus with a wide variety of stone fruits. See what’s growing in your region by visiting our mix pages at fruitguys.com/mix.
And remember — if no hablo barn swallow, you can always try mime.