⟨ I Know I'll Often Stop and Think About Them ⟩

14-Welcome Back

Porcelain Wall Hanging Swallow

Words & Photography / Holun Tang
Translation / Nicole Go

若果不是走錯一條不太常走的路,便不會發現附近的屋簷下原來有一個燕子窩。一隻成年家燕剛好飛回來鑽進巢裡,深藍色的羽毛充滿光澤十分亮麗,我們剛好目睹了這一幕,然後彼此分享有關燕子的事情。

If it hadn’t been for a wrong turn, I would have never noticed the swallow nest under a ledge nearby. A parent had just returned, we watched as its glossy-blue back perched in the nest. We spoke of swallows.

我說,以前香港老區那些唐樓的騎樓底不是常常可以看到許多燕子窩嗎?幾乎一抬頭便看到了。但是有沒有發覺現在都消失不見?

你說,日本一家 LAWSON 便利店因為有燕子在招牌燈箱壞掉的「L」字母上築巢,店長後來索性不維修該字,好讓燕子不受打擾,店名從此長期變成「AWSON」。我想,如果可以一直這樣,真的太好了,相信附近的鄰舍也樂得看見這個風景。

I said, remember when bird’s nests used to dot the balconies and verandahs of shophouses? They all seem to have disappeared, have you noticed?

You said, there was a family of swallows who had conveniently nested themselves on an extinguished ‘L’ sign outside a Lawson branch in Japan. In response, the store never fixed its sign, for fear of disturbing its residents. I hoped they kept the store as ‘AWSON’ forever – the neighbours would love it, too.

香港的燕子可沒那麼幸運,因為舊區重建和光害等問題,燕子的棲息範圍早已大大縮窄。除了有我們一般所認知尾巴成剪刀狀的家燕,常見燕子還有屬於另一科的小白腰雨燕,尾部短小而沒有分叉。礙於先天性條件,燕子們的腳部都短小纖弱得不能在地上走動,因此在築巢和哺育幼鳥以外的時間,一生幾乎都在飛行。尤其是連喝水都在飛行中進行的小白腰雨燕,它的拉丁學名「Apus」在古希臘語裡便是沒有腳的意思,是名副其實的「無腳雀仔」。原來可以看見燕子回巢稍作停駐的一刻,也需要有相當的運氣。

Swallows in Hong Kong are much less fortunate, as their nest substrate gives way to redevelopment and light pollution. In addition to swallows, you can also find swifts nesting inside the city’s old buildings, distinguished by their tail which is slightly forked, but not as much as a swallow’s. Swifts have very short legs which they can barely walk with. They never settle voluntarily on the ground except to breed; they even drink on the wing. Hence the Latin word apus for a swift, derived from the Ancient Greek: a, “without”, and pous, “foot” – based on the belief that these birds were a kind of swallow that lacked feet. It is, therefore, a stroke of luck to see one perch on its nest.

不就是一個燕子窩嗎?在我們眼中的一個普通鳥巢,可是燕子們用小嘴叼著泥巴、乾草、羽毛往返一千次才能建成的自然奇蹟。當絕大多數的野外動物選擇遠離文明而非依附,燕子的行為似乎非常不智。是燕子對人類文明不夠了解嗎?認為文明和自然是對立的我們可能會這樣想。不過這反而突顯了另一面 ── 是我們對自然不夠了解。我們已離開自然,走得太遠,再難以感知季節轉移,日夜更迭。無知單純的小鳥,越過壯闊海洋,隨風作息,該不會羨慕凡間那些慧黠的人。

All we see is but a nest. To the swallows, though, it’s a remarkable workmanship: nice neat cups of woven grasses and small twigs, camouflaged with moss and lined with mud. Whilst most of the wildlife chooses to stay away from civilisation, these little builders could seem counterintuitive. We may attribute to them a lack of understanding of civilisation, but that goes to show the bias of our own dichotomous understanding of civilisation and nature; we are impartial to the changing seasons, untethered from the circadian rhythm. Weathered and guileless, swallows have nothing to envy about us.