posted by Rob McMahon
Allen Johnson – photo credit:
According to the Audubon Society, this year’s swift turnout is significantly higher than the last few. Their rough estimates place the number at about eight or nine thousand. Personally, I attribute this to the press they recieved in the TBA guide. Animals can sense attention and energy, and knowing there would be a more discerning audience present, they did not want to disappoint. This year they’re art instead of vulgar nature.
Photography by Serena Davidson

Migration is a stunning piece, and the swifts are truly “amazing arealists.” I stumbled upon them my first year in Portland. There is something awesome about raw, natural phenomena. And I’ve been back many times since to take them in.
To be honest, I had mixed feelings about seeing them in the TBA guide. Appropriative art is one of those practices I love and hate. It serves to widen the realm of art, which I think is a good thing, but in so doing, perhaps, it lessens those experiences typically refered to as “life.”
Art, I think, is a way to remind us that life can be beautiful and sad, that all of our experiences are human experiences, and human experiences because they are shared. It’s a way to remind us of our common vocabulary, to slow us down enough to perceive the beauty that is happening all around us, everywhere, at all times.
I saw Allen Johnson’s piece last night after I left the swifts. It was wonderful. Beautiful and horrifying. The whole coin. Nothing is ever all bad or all good it seems. That’s life’s duality; the happiest and the saddest times often go hand in hand.
I’m reminded now of a night a few years back with a lover of mine and another couple in a bedroom of the house we shared. I was plaing the guitar, she was brushing her teeth, and our friends were freestyling love songs to one another. We would all chime in on the choruses.
That house was always full of love, but I don’t remember a time that I felt happier there. That night, with everyone smiling, and singing, the universe was complete and I was oblivious to suffering.
By the end of the week, my lover and I had parted ways. She was on a plane to Europe. Everyone had moved out of the house and I was squatting there, sorting through the stuff that was left behind for anything I could use or sell.
From the window of the empty dining room, I watched the last conversation those friends of ours had as a couple. In a pickup truck on the street below the tears streamed down that woman’s face. Then she got out, and he drove off. There was a pile of clothes on the living room floor.
How strange that is, I’ve often thought. How just a few nights earlier we’d never had it better, and yet here we were standing among the rubble of our lives. It was one of those times when the world just pops. When everything comes pouring out, when the leaves have that much more of an edge that seperates them from the sky.
I left Allen Johnson’s piece in smiliar fashion. Had to take a walk alone before I could engage with anyone. The world was awash in poetry. This is the highest compliment I can think to give. What better art than that which leaves the room; than that which leaves you alive in wonder. It is art that travels with you like a ghost.
This is why I say in part that I have mixed feelings about the swifts being catalouged. Art is not the only entry point to life. And I think we do ourselves a disservice if we forget that. As inspiring as all this is for us, as life affirming, it’s just a part of life. Some will find their reminders elsewhere. And if we go constantly looking for art to fill us up, to be the be-all end-all, then we’re forgetting that the best of it points us back to our lives. It points us back to those genuine moments of connection with our fellow humans who are just as surprised as we are at times to be in a body moving through three dimensional space. That to me is life. Marvelous and beautiful. With all it’s failures and dreams.