We had the usual hoard of people descend on the the property and spent a good few days beforehand preparing. The weather was truly amazing - clear and sunny, with that golden light of midsummer wrapping everything, and we sang and danced around our yard until it was time to walk through the field to climb our "Jāņi hill" and watch the sun set behind the trees. The view was spectacular, with the sun setting on one side of the hill and the moon rising on the other side.
The sunset is always the culmination of Jāņi - when you celebrate the longest day of the year, and symbolically say goodbye to the sun, as you start the slow descent downwards to winter and darkness again. Jāņi is also traditionally seen as the peak time of "nature's energy", if you like, the most intense time of flowering of nature, everything growing and green and full of life. Earlier Latvians also believed that Jāņi night was a dangerous one - that witches and fairies and wizards and envious, evil people walked the earth on that night, trying to do harm to your farm and its creatures. Because of this you had to stay awake all night, and await the sun rising again the next morning. Today we still sing songs to protect against witches at Jāņi, and put rowan branches and nettles and thistles into our Jāņi wreaths and decorations, as symbols of warding off the evil at work that night.
While we were all singing to the sunset, and rolling Jem's excellently built burning ball of hay down the hill (no cartwheel this year), tragedy struck in our yard. The stork's nest, which stands on some old concrete electricity pylons in the middle of the yard, collapsed from the weight of many years of nests built one on top of the other. The two baby storks that were being raised in the nest were not yet old enough to fly, and they hit the ground hard, along with years of heavy, built up sticks and moss and grass and mud. Mum and dad stork flew off in terror. One of the birds was badly injured, with bone and blood and limbs skewed, while the other was trying to stand.
All of the Kūgures inhabitants were in shock - the stork's nest is such a fixture in our house, and I dare say that in all of our minds the storks and their welfare is symbolic to us of the health and well being of the farm itself. Each year we live along with these birds - cheer them when they arrive home from their long trek to Africa, watch them with concern when we know they are hatching their baby storks, feel a sense of loss when we arrive at Kūgures in September, to realise the storks have left on their yearly migration. When Matīss took his first steps outdoors at Kūgures when he was not yet a year old, I watched the baby storks sitting on the edge of the nest, jumping and flapping and training their wings for flying. For the last two years the storks have not had any babies - and we have all been worried - and so this year we were overjoyed and relieved to see two healthy, fat baby storks being fed and looked over by their parents. Until Jāņi.
While our guests kept singing and merrymaking (they were on another hilltop and unaware of what had happened), Jeremy and a friend raced off to try to work out what to do. The injured stork needed to be put down, and the other stork seemed to be trying to stand. Jeremy bundled it into a box lined with hay and put it into our warm, quiet attic, hoping it wasn't too injured and that it may survive if left alone. When Matīss heard the news he began to wail and scream, and in my own shock I took him away down the hill and tried to explain, to console him in his hysteria. Apart from the fact that the nest collapsing seemed impossible, I was fighting my own sadness, and an irrational and overpowering sense of fear, because my mind immediately turned to the superstitions about witches and other bad creatures that roam at Jāņi.
The festivities continued on, of course, and we were calmed by our guests who reassured us about it being nature's way, and that they would come back next year, and this type of thing happened all the time, and there's nothing we could do, etc. I cursed myself for being a stupid city-slicker taking country problems to heart, and realized that any half-decent country dweller is used to this kind of devastation, sees it as normal, and doesn't spend much time or emotion worrying. The night went on as planned, and we saw in the sunrise in the most amazing blaze of colour - by far the most spectacular Jāņi sunset and sunrise I've ever witnessed. After a couple of hours sleep in the tent I got up, worried about the bird and what we'd do about it. Turned out there were a few people with similar thoughts, and by the end of breakfast we were coming up with plans and multiple options for what to do with a flightless baby stork.
One guest had rung a vet clinic and listened to their advice, who said that there was a chance that the mother would come back if we placed the baby in a new nest in the same place. While our friend Dace and I fed the stork with cut up and mashed worms (Dace, the legend, did the cutting), others started to weave a giant replacement bird's nest on the end of our barn roof. It seemed like such a long shot, but we had enough artists and musicians at our house to be fanciful enough to try it out! Jeremy and a team of blokes went to chop down willow branches, and passed them up to two guys on the roof (an architect and photographer!) who did the weaving. They took all morning doing it, while I was running around, anxiously feeding our Jāņi guests a neverending breakfast, and digging for worms in between, watching the baby stork in the attic, who seemed to be fading. When the nest was ready towards the afternoon, the baby stork's head was flopping down, and I had to hold it up and force its beak open for Dace to syringe in the worms. It seemed totally impossible that the mother bird would come back to a completely strange, manmade nest and adopt this ragged, half-dead baby.
Nevertheless we placed the baby in the nest, realizing that nature would have its way with the bird one way or another. Amazingly, as soon as people had climbed off the roof, we saw the baby bird pop its head up out of the nest and look around - the little bugger! Turns out it had been "playing dead" with me, and actually had the strength to lift its head all along. So we retreated from the nest and settled down to wait. Most of our guests left, and with hearts getting heavier every hour, we watched the nest as it sat abandoned in the wind and the sun. It looked like nothing was going to change, and I began making plans for Jem to get onto the roof and do a dusk feed for the bird, to at least keep it alive till morning. And then... the storks did a "fly by" low over the new nest. They peered inside... and flew away. In the evening, though, they were standing on the ground next to the shed, seemingly oblivious to the baby that desperately needed their help. They picked around there for about three hours, and by the time we were going to bed, they had both flown up to the shed roof, and were sitting there nonchalantly, not in the nest, but about a metre away. Pretending they didn't notice it.
We went to bed with quiet hope, but not getting too excited, but wishing that our crazy scheme may have worked. In the morning I woke to hear the patter of rain on the window, and went outside, blurry-eyed, to see what was happening - and mother stork was there in the nest, wet feathers puffed out, with baby stork sheltering from the rain by her legs! Truly a Jāņi miracle. We watched the rest of the morning as the storks came up to feed the baby, and carried up new twigs to correct and repair our man-made attempt at a nest.
On returning home we've had so many messages and calls from other Jāņi visitors who were worried for the stork - it turns out most of our city-slicker friends were as worried, and just as relieved as we were about the drama unfolding in our yard. An amazing outcome - against all hope - and it seems that there is light and goodness in the world after all!