Like the swallows that return to Capistrano every year, our clan has once again descended on Rehoboth. The count varies day-by-day, but in this year’s migration, we’ll round off the roster to somewhere around fifty. Mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, cousins and more cousins, all spread out over three generations and installed in five separate houses. It’s the show that never ends.
Memories may differ, but the general consensus is that this circus has been reuniting to Rehoboth in the second week of August for at least forty years. There was a time when the show stayed in town for two weeks, but a few years ago, we reduced the gathering just one week due to too many scheduling conflicts. That doesn’t mean we do less now, it just means we pack more into our days and nights. We make our time here count.
In my years with this traveling circus, I’ve watched toddlers turn into teenagers. There have been many happy additions to the family circle, and one or two deletions, I’m sad to say. But that’s life. What has never changed are the bonds that hold this boisterous family together—bonds of love and affection that transcend all age and gender differences, occasional squabbles, and even political persuasions. In this day and age, that’s saying a lot!
The birds who return to nest in the eaves of the San Juan Mission in Capistrano, California have been doing so for centuries. The Mission sits between two rivers, so it’s an ideal spot for the birds—cliff swallows—to raise their young. Their move-in day is in mid-March. They spend the next six months building nests, hatching eggs, and fledging their babies. Near the end of October, the swallows will swirl into the sky and head off to their wintering grounds in Goya, Argentina, thousands of miles away.
A few years ago, there was a restoration project on the grounds of the mission, and many of the swallows’ delicate mud nests were damaged or removed. (The real estate market can be cruel like that; just ask my wife!) Thankfully, the interruption was only temporary. Because there was some loss of habitat, there aren’t as many swallows as there used to be, but Swallows Day is back on the Capistrano calendar. By the way, you’ll need a ticket.
The swallows return to Capistrano year after year because they share a strong homing instinct. So do we. While our commute is not as long, and the duration of our stay is shorter, we have our own morning and evening rituals. Mornings are for breakfast and sun-screening; evenings are for gatherings around separate family tables with the option of some shared nightcaps for the younger bucks and does. In between, there are countless hours dedicated to beaching. Our army rolls onto the beach around 10, and decamps under umbrellas and in beach chairs, arranged in lines in the morning and in one great circle as the day progresses. There is a screened tent for napping babies, and strategically positioned towels for adult naps. There are enough buckets and shovels for everyone, even a large plastic swimming pool which the kids fill with sea water and sand. Frisbees and footballs fly; the Can-Jam game seems to have replaced the volleyball net as the adult game of choice, probably because it’s hard to hold a cold beer and play volleyball at the same time. As the sun goes down, there may be a surf rod or two pressed into service; fortunately, family dinners do not depend on what is caught or not caught, as the case may be.
On one evening, we regather on the beach in force, showered and refreshed. Buffet tables are set up and a scrumptious feast ensues. There’s appropriate kid fare and grown-up fare; plenty for all. As day fades, the waves die down and peace settles in like a happy, tired puppy. I look around and I thank my lucky stars that I’m one of these swallows.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. His new novel “This Salted Soil,” a new children’s book, “The Ballad of Poochie McVay,” and two collections of essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”), are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is Musingjamie.net.