Spring in the New Year

The Pulse and Politics of the Environment, Peace, and Justice

Bob Musil, President, Rachel Carson Council

“In nature nothing exists alone.”

“The aim of science is to discover and illuminate truth. And that, I take it, is the aim of literature, whether biography or history… It seems to me, then, that there can be no separate literature of science.”

“If the Bill of Rights contains no guarantee that a citizen shall be secure against lethal poisons distributed either by private individuals or by public officials, it is surely only because our forefathers, despite their considerable wisdom and foresight, could conceive of no such problem.”

— Rachel Carson

As 2022 ended, most of the nation was literally freezing to death, trapped in blizzards blanketing highways and houses. Here in Maryland, things were not so bad, but record frigid temperatures made Bethesda feel like Bangor, or the Bering Strait. Then, as the New Year opened, some celestial switch was thrown. Kids doffed their down jackets, switched to shorts, and streamed outside atop their Christmas presents of scooters, trikes, and bikes. Basketballs bounced, tots chalked the roads with hopscotch, mazes, and cartoon figures impossible for a senior to identify.

Temperatures rose some 50 degrees in a single day and continued onward into the balmy sixties. The response of the media to such an obvious disruption of normal weather? I couldn’t find a single reference to global climate change. News coverage lurched from heart-rending stories of personal tragedy and photos of highway pileups, to annoying features about New Year’s, football, the continuing saga of Donald Trump, and handwringing over the failure of the new Republican House of Representatives to elect a Speaker.

I was furious. Hardly the spirit of peace and goodwill supposed to mark the holiday season.

As I strolled along familiar walking routes through this ersatz spring, a robin landed just above my head in a flutter of wings and flirting of its tail. Seemingly unaware that I was in a dangerously foul mood, it then proceeded to sing a hearty “Cheerily, cheerily, cheerily!!” Vexed at such vivacious vocalizations, I turned to see that this red-breasted cheerleader was somehow part of a growing chorus and bevy of various birds – ranks of robins, starlings, juncos, and a flicker probing the now moist ground for worms and bugs. Woodpeckers and nuthatches pounded at tree trunks, while cardinals, chickadees, and titmice made lascivious springtime calls.

Then, I swear, a slight smile involuntarily crossed my face. It grew larger as I saw a large Cooper’s Hawk perched high in an oak tree, surveying her possible lunch offerings. But the soothing sunshine had rendered even this skilled predator as gentle as a lamb. Unconcerned, starlings and sparrows sat on nearby branches surrounding their erstwhile enemy in a sort of Quaker tableau.

As my mood began to elevate, I was reminded that Rachel Carson’s friend, Ada Govan, described in her book, Wings at My Window (1940), how her crippling depression began to recede as she watched a tiny chickadee cling to her icy windowsill in the depth of winter. Where had the birds around me come from, how had they survived outside in near zero weather without the central heating, computers, microwaves, and DoorDash that we humans need in order to survive?

The woes of the world are still very much with us in this winter suddenly turned to spring – death, destruction, darkness, freezing in Ukraine; vicious gun violence in more towns and cities than one can name, or even recall; exceedingly heavy rains in California that alleviate a drought while devastating homes and hillsides in avalanches of mud;, sea level rise and storms along the Outer Banks in North Carolina that wash away entire beachfronts with their homesteads large and small.

It would be naïve to believe that some robins and some songbirds could staunch such sorrow. But as I walk each day in sudden springtime, words like adaptation, resilience, persistence take on fresh, vivid meaning. A Song Sparrow sings as if it understands more than I ever could. “Hip, hip, hooray boys, spring is here again!” I no longer scowl, but urge on a pair of tawny Carolina Wrens poking inside awnings and garages looking to find once again a place to create new life.

I roam more and more each day, rising with the rosy-fingered dawn and wending homeward as sunsets paint my suburban block with fiery red and orange. A full-coated Red Fox scampers by me just yards away. It is followed closely by a second fox, loping happily, as if its thoughts are clearly getting more amorous than aggressive.

Somehow, nature, however much we have distorted and derailed it, goes on despite the depredations of we humans with our woes and weaknesses. Perhaps, in some great scheme of things, this burst of sun and songbirds and sex is meant to remind us that we are still alive, still part of something larger than ourselves, if only we would stop to feel the pulse of springtime that beats within us.

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