The French Libération website has published an amusing story about mysterious stuff that has been falling from the sky onto the village of Saint-Pandelon, down in the south-west corner of France, near Dax. The mysterious substance, rapidly identified as some kind of excrement, has been falling onto automobiles and rooftops, and polluting local parks and gardens. For a moment, some people suggested that this disgusting stuff might have fallen from airliners… in much the same way that human excrement used to be dropped between the rails from trains. Aircraft experts were obliged to point out that this is not the way that WCs function inside a giant pressurized fuselage, where pressing the button alongside the toilets does not create a momentary orifice in the plane's skin. (On the contrary, shit completes the voyage to the aircraft's destination... along with the crew, the passengers and their luggage.) The culprits, above this French village of 750 inhabitants, were flocks of swifts.
I often see the Alpine variety of this bird in the skies of Gamone. People mistake them for swallows, but swifts are much bigger than ordinary farmyard swallows, and more sophisticated from an aeronautical point of view. Unlike swallows, they remain almost permanently in the air, where they feed on insects. Besides, if a swift were to land on the ground, its large wings are so heavy that the bird might not be able to take off again.
I've always been fascinated by the symbol of this perpetually airborne creature. Heavenly clouds end up coming down to the ground in the form of rain, and even the wind makes contact with us when it ruffles our hair. But the only messages sent to the surface of the Earth by swifts are little balls of shit. Next spring, I'm convinced that the parks and gardens of Saint-Pandelon will be graced with exotic wildflowers of an angelic splendor.