The Swallow And The Other Birds
Finneran's Fables: Aesop, Embellished
Into the serried furrows of a rolling field, a vast, striped expanse across which, but a day ago, the toiling farmer dragged his plow, a new batch of seeds were sowed. It was with the tawny germ of hemp, rather than that of some sweeter vegetable of more savory use, that he decided to bathe this porous tract of land. Unlike in years past, when barley, wheat, and maize seasoned the dirt, it was with hemp that he now opted to feed his ample field, a hungry dozen acres of earth into which, with generous hand and hopeful eye, he sprinkled this vital grain of flaxen hue.
Only recently had he come to learn of hemp’s multifarious uses, and the variety of good purposes to which it might be favorably applied. It was on the basis of this new-found knowledge that he decided to cultivate its fibrous bounty, and to enjoy all the ripe benefits it might soon confer. Should the weather permit, and the rain affirm his mission, and the fertile god Ceres smile upon his venture, his aim was to grow the strongest blades of hemp out of which the toughest rope might be twined, and the sturdiest nets spun.
A perspicacious swallow—worldly of experience and keen of eye—happened to take notice of the farmer on this day. At once, he recognized the identity of the seed by which the field was being so copiously showered, and in an instant foresaw what its cultivation would portend. In haste, he flew back to the nesting place of his fellow birds, a chirping crowd of loafers between whom succulent grubs and juicy tweets were always being shared.
Breathless, the swallow arrived at the festive bough on which his fellow birds were all so blithely perched, and proceeded to warn them: “Beware of that man, the industrious farmer. Mind the seed he tarries not to sow”.
The other birds, impatient of the swallow’s purported wisdom, looked askance at this intrusive messanger and cringed at the sound of his flapping beak. “Why”, they asked, “should we bother ourselves with his doings? Has he not, hitherto, been the most lavish of benefactors to us hungry birds? Does he not reliably set our table with crunchy morsels and delicious plants, heaps of nutritious food on which, so long as the feeble scarecrow diverts his empty gaze, and lowers to his lifeless side an impotent arm made of hay, we can, at any time, dine?”
“You overestimate his munificence”, the anxious swallow uttered in response. “Today, at this very hour, he sows not for the continuance of your gustatory delight, but to bring to an end the happy livelihood you’ve enjoyed, the constant feasts of which, like the unsuspecting host of a parasite, he’s been the unwitting sponsor. For what he sows is none other than hemp—a plant unfamiliar to you, perhaps, but a bane to all of us who wing the sky. In distant lands, I’ve seen the potential of its terror. I urge you, obviate your own demise. Descend at once upon that fatal field, and pick up every last grain of the seedy hemp. By so doing, you avert your imminent doom, and preserve what’s become of your cheerful life”.
With an outburst of laughter, the other birds heaved and chirped. To the innocent perception of the passing human ear, the guffaw sounded as if it were the ringing out of some melodious warble. It was as though the golden strings of nature’s lyre had been plucked, and the stolid trees stood ready to amplify the ethereal music. Satisfied with the bounty before them, and tired of the swallow’s unsolicited advice, the birds returned to their loose conversations and their ready meals. “Sure”, they said, in a tone of utter contempt, “those little, menacing seeds of hemp—as you call them—might be dangerous in the future, and, more importantly, innocuous and edible at present, but we care to taste them not. I foresee in them no such daunting prospect, certainly nothing so ominous as you describe. Leave us, then, to our carousing and our idleness, to our jocularity and our games, and come not with such stories of unborn dismay.”
And thus, the other birds paid no heed to the solemn warnings of the swallow, for whom their flighty respect had all but vanished.
Time passed, the swallow moved on, and the hemp grew ever taller. No sooner had the farmer made his seminal investment than he reaped its leafy profit. Once he’d harvested the necessary amount, he transformed the grassy hemp into rugged knots of cord. Many yards of the sinuous rope now coiled about his workshop, in which he labored as the hostile blow of winter relented to the springtime’s gentler touch. As if by magic, the cord itself underwent a subsequent transition—from the stringy twine of its youth, to the burly net into which it would evolve. The metamorphosis was astonishing—a sight at which the gossamer butterfly would even blush.
Now, with the advent of spring, the farmer had at his disposal a couple of massive, impervious nets—knotted cages out of which, should it fall victim to the misadventure, a trapped flock of birds couldn’t easily escape. This season, unlike those past, he would relieve himself of the constant burden by which he was everyday beset—that of ravenous birds swallowing up his valuable seed. He would use his hemp-stitched nets to imprison these naughty parasites with wings, and inoculate his fields of their endless predations. No more would he be subject to their ungrateful takings, their constant pilfering, their aerial assaults.
With the arrival of spring, the swallow returned from his yearly circumnavigation. From the fringes of the Orient, to the balmy archipelagos of the Indies, to the sugar-laden coasts of the isles of Carib, no land had evaded his view. As he glided into port, he was shocked, though hardly surprised, to encounter the frightful scene by which his keen eye was joylessly greeted. The heedless birds by whom, but a year prior, his urgent warnings were all but dismissed, found themselves suddenly bound up in nets. They were grounded, flightless, hungry, and completely subject to the shrewd farmer’s whim. As for the farmer, his silhouette could be seen in the distance, unmolested, happily sowing the lines of his fresh-plowed field.
“What did I tell you?”, said to the captive birds the downcast swallow, to whom, for want of opposable thumbs and a stronger beak, she could be of very little assistance. “Destroy the seed of evil, or it will grow up to your ruin”.