Today we finished mowing hay at a new property we'll be managing with a partner landlord.  This makes the third property now that folks have purchased within a few minutes of our farm hub so we can manage it and they can have the pleasure of owning a piece of property that's healing.  We take these partnership seriously and graciously.

I haven't mowed much in the last couple of years so it was a great delight to spend a couple of hours jostling around on the tractor, ear plugs firmly in place, enjoying this process of putting by for the cows.  Since it's so late in the season and hot, the bugs that inhabit tall, thick grasslands are more prolific than normal.

What wants to eat these bugs disturbed by the hay mower?  Barn swallows.  This property has a nice-sized shed for storing hay and an old bank barn, both of which are full of barn swallows.  Relatives of the purple martin, these beautiful little acrobats offer continuous entertainment around the mower.  Down in the depths of that thick grass and clover, bugs, voles, mice and snakes make leafy tunnels and villages.  The community network built and developed by these critters down in that deep forage is quite spectacular.

But along comes the mower, ripping it all apart, destroying homes, nests, and feeding areas.  Hawks and buzzards come to feast on the exposed small mammals.  But the star of the show is the barn swallow because they operate best in tandem with the hay mower.  We don't have any cabs on our tractors, and part of that is to connect as closely as we can to the work we're doing.  Part of that connection, in this case, involves partnering with these aerial gymnasts.  Attracted by the bugs jumping up from the mower disturbance, barn swallows swoop in to inhale thousands of bugs in mid-air.

It's one of the most pleasurable wild interactions in my life.  The barn swallows respond to my mower and for that period of time enjoy more easy food pickings than at any time of the year.  I've never seen one so bloated with bugs that he couldn't fly; somehow they know when to quit.  But I guarantee you they talk about that day for a long time--the day the mower came.  They dive with such precision that you almost feel like they're going to run into your head.  I can almost reach out and touch them they dive in so close.  To have two or three dozen of these beautiful little birds swarming around you for hours on end is unspeakably entertaining.  Who needs video games when  you can have this kind of responsive interaction?

Isn't this a great picture of life, the tension of gain and pain.  Yes, the mower inflicts pain on lots of things, but it provides sustenance for livestock in the winter and satiates barn swallows like nothing else imaginable.  I really can't think of much of anything that would be considered gain that doesn't also require pain.  A good marriage requires me to let go of some of my selfishness.  A good grade requires more disciplined study time.  Job advancement requires learning and attention to detail.  Good food requires spending a little more money.  So here's to the barn swallows; today was their day.

Can you think of other pain-gain tradeoffs?