Thursday, April 26, 2007

If you are looking for the bluebird of happiness...

...it helps to have neighbors with meadows, hedgerows, fruit trees, organic gardens, and nesting boxes designed especially for bluebirds.

I have such neighbors. My walk to college each day takes me through conservation land administered by the Natural Resources Trust of Easton. It would be hard to imagine a habitat more perfectly suited to a bluebird's needs, and my friend Bluebird Bob sees to it that the birds are well housed.

Electric blue, robin-red-breasted, plump, round-shouldered insect snatchers flitting through the branches of the crabapple tree: Who can see a bluebird and not be happy? The naturalist John Burroughs heard its song as "pur-i-ty, pur-i-ty." Others hear "tru-al-ly, tru-al-ly." No one with an ounce of sentimentality in their soul doubts that bluebirds are both pure and true.

It's great to see them back after decades of absence. When I came to New England in 1964, bluebirds were few and far between. As I recall, that was the same year I read Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. The book exposed the massive, indiscriminate use of pesticides, especially DDT, and gloomily assessed the consequences for the environment. So successful was Carson's call to action that within months of the book's publication many states and foreign countries banned DDT. In 1957 the U. S. Department of Agriculture sprayed 4.9 million acres with the poison; in 1968 the figure had dropped to zero.

DDT is no longer an issue in the U. S., but huge amounts of other pesticides are still dumped into the environment. Everyone wants picture-perfect lawns, healthy trees, and supermarkets stuffed with abundant, flawless produce. I've got weeds between the bricks in my backyard patio that I would love to douse with killer. The chemical industry urges us on with "yes, yes, yes."

"Pur-i-ty, pur-i-ty," the bluebirds call. And those of us who are pleased to see these delightful birds return to our neighborhoods can only answer "Tru-al-ly, tru-al-ly."