Our Eyes Are on the Sparrow

A single sparrow does not a summer make. 

But what about two sweat stains?

I’ve been thinking about swallows and summer and our signs of the season. 

Those swallows migrate to us all the way from Aesop. His 2500-year-old “The Young Man and the Swallow” would not make the b-side of his greatest hits, but it has made permanent nesting with us as a cultural reference point. 

With the title named, you probably could write the story: a young man observes a swallow, believing it a sign of summer; he sells his jacket at a winter price; a frost comes, leaving man and swallow shivering. The End. At least Aesop didn’t freeze them to death, amirite?

Aesop supplied the image, but the summer swallows received an even higher perch from Aristotle. Believe it or not, in his central section on happiness and the good life, the philosopher takes flight:

“To be happy takes a complete lifetime; for one swallow does not make spring, nor does one fine day; and similarly one day or a brief period of happiness does not make a man supremely blessed and happy.”

Nicomachean Ethics nests happiness. 

Ol’ Aristotle might have a future yet. He was slightly more poetic than, say, old Louisiana case law. In my 50-too-many pages on Louisiana eviction writing this spring, I dropped a footnote to this Easter egg:

“‘[O]ne swallow does not make a summer’ and one such disturbance does not amount to a moral eviction.” Keenan v. Lagardeur, 5 La. App. 266, 267 (Orleans 1926).

Summer. Happiness. Disruption of peaceful possession of lessee’s leased unit. Who can say which the swallow really portends? 

I’ll stick with summer for now. Memorial Day is often a fluttering marker of the changing of seasons—though by Monday I’ll have little chance for a return on my winter coat. I might have to pay rent for someone to house it until December. 

A grape snowball. A halogen-lit termite swarm. A kaleidoscope-shimmering stagger into the outside heat. What’s your summer sign? Any answer less than heat stroke qualifies.

Things all over seem returning to normal. This may be a first-swallow fake-out. But it may, instead, be a return to what was, to the signs of another season, to normal migration patterns again. 

One swallow does not a summer make. But everything is flocking these days. Welcome to summer!


And now for something completely different. Or is it? One school shooting does not the 2nd Amendment strip? Faced with the tragedy of another national act of terror—as defined as an indiscriminate act of violence to invoke broad fear—we again are reminded of the threads coming loose at our societal seams. Uvalde, Buffalo, New Orleans local record pace. All say people are unhappy, are struggling with community and mental health, are too close to guns. 

All say, most controversially, we need a political solution. Remember brother Aristotle? We’re political beings, according to the philosopher, literally people of our people, with community and individual flourishing tied together. Politics is the way we shape our broader values and concerns into workable solutions. It should be a good, people-supporting word, and as such, it’s best expressed as a verb—to do politics—an attempt to do good, better and for more. Unfortunately, in another moment demanding a political solution, we’ll likely be left with talking points. With an “all-of-the-above” problem, it would be nice to try something. Prayers for the best kind of politicization. Our eyes, again, are on the sparrow.

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