Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Quiet Morning Stirs Memories of Silent Spring
March 31, 2018
By Steve Grinley
Spring is struggling to arrive this year, but despite the below normal temperatures, the birds are still optimistically singing their spring songs. They are visiting the feeders faithfully every morning, that is, except one. One morning last week, there were no birds. There were no birds at the feeders, no birds in the trees, none flying overhead. Opening the door to leave for work, there was no bird song at all.
It was eerie. “Silent Spring” flashed through my mind. I remembered Rachel Carson’s efforts and I remembered the days when the future of many birds was in jeopardy due to the use of DDT and other harmful chemicals.
Our birds’ absence was a temporary thing – it was just that morning. Maybe there was a hawk in the neighborhood? The birds are all back, happy (like us) that the weather is finally turning. But that silent morning also reminded me of the piece I shared with you a few years ago by Lisa Powis of Newbury. She wrote about her memories of those ‘Silent Spring” times in a piece that she titled “Noisy Spring”, which I will share with you again:
“I reluctantly drag myself out of bed to close the windows. They are so loud! Why can’t they sleep in a little? I’ll feed them; they need not get the early worm! I both marvel at and curse my waking at 4:30 because of the birds conversing in our back yard. I smile and say “thank you Rachael Carson” as I drift back to sleep.
“Born in 1961, I distinctly remember robins and blue jays in the wooded back yard we moved to when I was two. I remember my legs covered in mosquito bites that I scratched until they bled, and scabs were as much a part of summer as popsicles. I can remember running into the house to watch out the living room bay window as the low flying crop dusters buzzed our neighborhood spraying a dense trail of white mist. We cheered as they dropped their cargo imagining all the mosquitoes vanishing.
“I also remember a time when the robins and blue jays did not return and the neighborhood mornings were strangely quiet. I was around eight or nine when I remember adults talking about “Silent Spring.” Their talk seemed serious and I believed what I heard instantly. The mosquito spraying had made the bugs stronger, but killed all the birds.
I knew Miss Carson’s book was way beyond me and I wished I was old enough to read and understand it. I love the saying, “it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” For Miss Carson it could have said, “It is better to fight the government and chemical companies than to curse the silence.”
“I think about this brilliant, bold scientist often as I enjoy the birds we take so for granted in our coastal community. Dying young of breast cancer, perhaps due to the very chemicals she sought to ban, I think of her as an environmental martyr. She’s such an amazing role model of how one person can change the world for generations yet to come.
“I love her quote: “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”
“I’m no longer the eight year old in Springfield. Forty three years later, I’m a mom in Newbury with a 12, 10, and 7 year old. Our wonder of the universe and appreciation for God’s creation begins in our back yard.
“It was the magenta rhododendrons in full bloom that blinded us to the many shortcomings of the house, but now I’m grateful we chose this spot. Its huge old trees that hold the nests of many birds and the peaceful back yard have soothed our souls and allowed us to witness nature’s wonders. Of course, hours of sweat labor have gone into our house and surroundings to make it the home it is, but we’re at a place where we’re really enjoying it.
“Our kids go to the back window to watch the flight pattern of the yellow swallowtail butterflies; they seem to always fly on a diagonal in the open yard. I sit in a lawn chair and patiently await the humming bird that feeds on the bergamot. I can only catch it if I sit quietly and wait. As evening falls we watch “batty” and his friends circle between the giant oak and maple trees feasting on our plentiful supply of mosquitoes. This is one time when the good old days weren’t better, and I’m grateful that the only planes my kids see are the sightseeing flights taking off from Plum Island.
“Look Mom, Golfanina’s feathers have turned yellow again, it must be spring!” I love that our kids have names for many of the creatures they see in our back yard. We watched in amazement one night as a hawk swooped in to attack the finches at the feeder, and like fighter jets, three black crows chased the hawk out of the yard until the little ones could escape. We call them the hero birds and let them gobble up the bird food as their reward. I try to describe the silent springs to the kids and tell them that chemicals all but made the birds of my childhood extinct. Fortunately, given their own experience, they believe me, but cannot grasp it.”
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