Last night we watched approximately 4,620 vaux swifts swirl around the air and then dive into the chimney of the old boiler at Chapman School in NW Portland.

At one point, a hawk came looking for dinner, and the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of people sitting on the lawn to watch sat in rapt attention as the hawk dove through the cloud of swifts over and over, only to be chased away by the swarm, harried on all sides. Flying past the outer edges of the cloud of swifts, it would then swing around widely and make another impossibly fast dive through the scattering fray. I've rarely seen a crowd so enthralled at any film, drama or music event I've been to. 

As the hawk was attempting to find dinner for itself, the swifts started, in small groups, swirling down the chimney like a genie being sucked back into its bottle. The remaining large group of swifts continued to fend off the hawk, as if the group were sending escape pods into the chimney.

After about 10 minutes of diving, being chased, retreating, diving again, the hawk finally caught its dinner and retreated.

The remaining swifts continued swirling around the air for some time, continuing to send small groups down into the chimney, and finally larger and larger groups would spiral themselves into the small opening. At last, just as it was almost so dark you could no longer see them, there was only a small cloud left high up in the air that you could just make out against the darkening sky, like the cloud of gnats you see across the room in the summer, lazily buzzing away and seemingly doing nothing in particular.

As the last remaining swifts retreated to their evening rest, the crowd clapped and cheered, as if the actors had just taken their bows, and the curtain had returned to gently brush the stage floor.

We walked home in the cool darkness through the quiet, suburban neighborhood, to arrive back to the almost jarring lights of NW 23rd Ave. On one street corner, a banjo and fiddle playing, and on the opposite corner, a man with a guitar interpreting Prince's Kiss for the massive crowd at Salt and Straw ice cream (how do they always still have a 30 minute line at 9pm?).

Portland has its moments.