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The Story of Cello
John Firman

Cortona, Italy
May 31, 2007

So I'm walking home one morning in Cortona, having gotten Ann's USA Today from the piazza, and happen to notice this swallow shoved up against a door stoop. What ho, old chap, sez I, you'll get eaten there by a cane or gatto. He  just blinked at me. With some hesitation I picked him up. He just looked peacefully at me. Oh-oh, now we're in for it. Taking on an injured animal in a foreign land. And we have to travel north in a few days!

But I took him home and Ann and I put him on the balcony. He couldn't walk, only waddle with his beautiful wings outspread, and his attempts at flight were feeble flutterings along the floor. Sick? Hurt? Young? Doesn't seem so. No blood, no deformity, good healthy feathers and limbs. Weird. Ready to call a vet or Wildlife Rescue in Palo Alto.

No vets open now, so I spent time holding him in my hand, to give him warmth in case he was in shock. He just blinked at me a couple times and went to sleep. I put him on my chest while I wrote, and he climbed up under my collar and slept. I named him "Cello" for uccello, Italian for "bird."

Later, we put Cello in his little basket and waited for a visit from Ann’s friend Marcella, the 82-year-old ex-Olympian high jumper. We hoped she would know what was wrong with him. She blew our minds. She said, "Swallows can't walk! They can only fly!” He's not sick, hurt, or young—he just needs to be tossed off a cliff, launched into flight! Right.

So, the three of us got in the car and drove up to a lovely steep hill outside  the walls of the village, where he'd have a long, clear glide (or, shudder, a nasty fall into the brush below?). Ann closed her eyes. I launched Cello. He took off like a shot, instantly becoming a swooping fleck in the sky with all his friends!!! We were ecstatic! A miracle, truly, especially after all our nightmares about what was going to happen in all of this. Over celebratory espressos, Ann pointed out that Cello is probably the only swallow in Cortona that has ridden in a car or helped me write an article. Does he have stories to tell! We too.

So just remember, some creatures are of heaven and unsuited for terra firma, and sometimes they might need a boost back up.

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