Weeks ago, sometime in June, I found myself on a 1-hour rove of Step House – and engaged in a brutal war. It was the height of gnat season, and I was under attack. I performed my gnat dance with bravery and diligence, waving my hands in the air as I alternated spinning around and running in circles. But resistance was futile. As I nursed my many wounds that evening, it was clear the gnats had won.
Why? I thought to myself that fateful morning. Why must such horrible creatures exist?! It must be solely to torture me – was the conclusion I came to, just as a visitor walked into the site and witnessed my embarrassing biting insect defense dance. I stilled and smiled, withstanding the torture as I found myself defenseless from the bugs for the sake of my own dignity. It was. The longest. Fifteen minutes. Ever.
As the visitors left, I sighed, cursing the horrible creatures biting every square inch of my exposed skin. Yes, I thought, filled with self-pity, these creatures exist only for my discomfort.
But as soon as the thought crossed my mind, Mother Nature sent her disagreement my way. A beautiful violet-green swallow, colors gleaming in the sun, flew by me with his signature whoosh, feeding on the insects that fed on me. As I looked up I realized he was not alone. Dozens of swallows, along with their friends – the noisy but graceful white-throated swift – floated in the air around me. It was breakfast time.
Being stationed at Step House and Spruce Tree House for an early morning rove is one of my favorite ways to start the day for this very reason. I wasn’t a big bird fan until I came to Mesa Verde. They reminded me of little dinosaurs, and since I am still a little scarred from a late-night screening of Jurassic Park in elementary school, they therefore mostly elicited emotions of fear, indifference, and occasionally even disgust. But the little swifts and swallows that take over the cliff edged-sky in the mornings and late afternoons have captured me. I love the way they fly with such freedom and joy. In unpredictable patterns and unimaginable speeds (white-throated swifts get up to 200mph on a regular basis). Watching them reminds me it’s possible to be diligent, determined and goal-oriented (these birds are after all, chasing a meal in their beautiful flight patterns), but to enjoy the road along the way. It’s a nice lesson. Another that has been so beautifully illustrated by Mother Nature to me.
And she taught me another lesson on that day. As I sat questioning the purpose of those damned gnats, that little swallow reminded me gently that it isn’t all about me. Those gnats do have a purpose, and that is to feed the birds I’ve grown to love so much. And in a round-about way, the gnats connect me to the swallows and swifts: the gnats eat me so the birds can eat them and in turn, I get to enjoy their beautiful show. And anyone who has witnessed their morning acrobatics will tell you this – it’s totally worth it.