Steve Woods

A Welcoming Nature

In What Day is it? on October 23, 2009 at 6:00 am

Each year, my family and I have made it a point to return to Sequoia National Forest, to settle in for as long as we can stand it under the enormously tall, beautiful, welcoming Giant Sequoias.  We invite as many family members as are willing to hang out together, circling the campgrounds for the perfect location.  Spying the site most likely to mask our great noise (we have many children between us,) we get busy pitching a plethora of tents, gathering firewood and placing all of our food in cabinets, as it is bear country.  This is our second home, out in the open….

The Swallows of Capistrano

Poster celebrating the swallows' presence

Poster celebrating the swallows' presence

In Capistrano, the swallows have been there since March 19th, seven warm months of chirping, nestling together, preening themselves and their new children in temporary but comfortable homes.  They have spent their days looping the skies in rapid flapping dances, and watching the visitors with tiny eyes, as they are led through the Mission.  It’s now time for the swallows to return to their second home, until next year….

Mating and home-building skills

Where is your second home, that special place you find yourself needing to return to often?  What little corner of the Earth holds a familiar, comfortable nest for you and yours, and why do we need our escape spots?  Is it perhaps a deep-rooted need to show to loved ones our ability to find shelter anew, to provide sustenance in strange places? To prove our worth as a mate?

Nobody really knows why the swallows return to Capistrano every year.  It’s thought that the swallows likely made their choice to settle there long before the mission was ever created, thousands of generations earlier.  Perhaps they originally settled nearby, only moving over to the mission after it was built, seeing a great location for building their special nests.  By any account, the new babies born in Capistrano soon learn to see the Mission as their home, and they remember it well.

A welcoming nature

After Mission San Juan Capistrano was created, a town formed up nearby.  Legend has it that as the birds settled in under the roofs of the new buildings, residents began chasing the “filthy birds” away.  The local priest, Father St. John O’Sullivan, felt sorry for the birds and invited them to settle inside the safe confines of the Mission.  His welcoming attitude brought more and more birds each and every year in gratitude.

Towering giants, watching over us as we sleep...

Towering giants, watching over us as we sleep...

For my family, I think it is the trees of Sequoia that bring us back, and holds our continuing affections when gone.  They are like thick walls surrounding and protecting us; yet when we raise our heads we see the sky above, and remember we are still outdoors.  The trees are like beautiful brown and green nails, hammered into the mountains by a God bent on restoring all of our lives through natural beauty.

In Capistrano, the visiting birds were well known locally, only gaining national attention in the early 1900s when birdwatchers began following their return to study them.  The swallows brought incredible notoriety to the Mission, as throngs of tourists, after having heard the story of the annual migrations, began to stream in.  The income allowed the Mission to be restored and kept up, a reward perhaps for Father O’Sullivan’s welcoming arms.  Mission San Juan Capistrano houses Father Serra’s Chapel, the oldest building in California still in use.

The “other” home for the swallows

So where do the swallows reside during the colder Winter months?  This question has evaded people for decades.  Jose de Garcia Cruz, also known as Acu, was the bellringer for the Mission for quite awhile. Thought to be one of the last of the Juaneno Indians, the local indigenous people, Acu had his own story.  A highly religious man, Acu believed that the swallows made their way across the waters to the Holy Land, returning with twigs in their beaks, used to float in the ocean when tired.

Migratory path of the Capistrano Swallows

Migratory path of the Capistrano Swallows

I have often wondered when camping in our special place, are we loud, noisy marvels to the beers, deer and squirrels?  Do they often wonder where we go, what mythical place we return to after our temporary, noisy hiatus in their back yard?

Recent investigation using modern techniques to follow the birds led to the discovery of where the famous swallows call home when not at Capistrano.  Their Winter home is the city of Goya, Argentina, 7,500 miles from Capistrano.  The swallows leave Goya every year on or about February 18th, flying for 30 successive days at an incredible elevation of 2,000 ft.  They fly that high to take advantage of wind currents and to avoid predatory birds.  When they return to Goya, they have flown a distance almost equal to circumnavigating the Globe.

Have you made your plans for a return this year?

Sequoia is only half a tank of gas away, calling to us each and every year, when the Sun’s warmth lingers long enough for pleasant mountain days, yet the mornings are crisp enough to make the coffee seem incredible, the bacon heavenly.  How far away is your special haven, and have you made plans to return yet?  Take your family, and show them that your love drives you to provide for them, to care for them, anywhere you are.  That you will always be there, that no matter where life brings you, you’ll always return to their welcoming nature…

  1. I don’t know if I have a second home, or maybe being with love ones no matter were we are is home for me. Maybe the reason of my love for traveling is a blessing, perhaps that second home is out there and I haven’t found it yet.
    In the few places that I have had the pleasure of traveling to, I always tray to mingle with the locals, I have never gone on tours except for day tours that I fit between my walks through the towns and just talking to people in stores and waiters in restaurants, to me that is home. What ever is the reason I am happy is that way.

  2. And that, I believe, is exactly how one should behave when at their “second home,” walking, perusing, finding the special places and honestly getting to know the surroundings!

    I have appreciated your photographs of your journeys, and hope that the next time you find yourself on the road, you will share to an even greater extent!


  3. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by _stevewoods: Dopodomani : A Welcoming Nature. Where is your 2nd home?…

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