As Earth Day approaches, a trio of folk songs reflect environmental concerns
After spending more than six years researching and documenting the harmful effects of man-made chemicals on the environment, Rachel Carson has published the book “Silent Spring” in 1962. The title of the book refers to the damage caused to the environment by chemicals, such as DDT, which poisoned water, harmed crops and killed wildlife such as birds. This damage threatened to bring about a “silent spring”.
The book, for many people, launched the modern environmental movement in the United States and around the world. One of the people influenced by the book was then-US Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, the founder of Earth Day and a major force behind national legislation to protect the environment, such as the Wilderness Act, the National Trails Act, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and National Environmental Education Act.
With Earth Day upon us and in memory of Carson, here are some songs from folk musicians that are about birds, but also about the bigger picture.
Claudia Schmidt “Beaver Island Jubilee, For the Birds, Replenish”
First, Claudia Schmidt, who lived in Wisconsin for a while, shares a medley of music and poetry titled “Beaver Island Jubilee, For the Birds, Replenish.” Joy comes from his energetic mountain dulcimer playing and his words speak of the renewal or replenishment of all nature, including birds and people:
Everything needs to be replenished
Water inside and outside
Everything that fills us,
everything around us
The great whistling pines,
the tenacious beaver
The ancient loon
The crash of the wings of the young eagle swooping over our canoes
Hailing from the Driftless region of Wisconsin, Johnsmith often uses nature imagery in his songs, like this one titled “Jaybird.”
A bluesy number, the song features birds as messengers of what humanity needs to hear and the dangers of environmental degradation:
Jaybird, Jaybird, here’s your song
Go sing it on the myrtle wood all day
Go tell the crows and the tits
Tell them the sawgrass is blooming and the wind is blowing east
Jaybird, Jaybird, sing out loud
From east to west, from north to south
Tell the whole world there’s no time to waste
We can’t drink the water, we can’t breathe the air.
Samara Jade “To the birds”
Finally, no set of melodies would be complete without the chirping of the birds themselves. Samara Jade’s “To the Birds” references crows, towhi, chickadees, wood thrushes, warblers and nightjars, including their calls in a song that charts our current environmental challenges for not “listening to the birds “.
We forgot how to listen to their songs
And when did these paths diverge?
Was it when technology emerged
Or at the beginning of writing
Or when we stopped listening to the birds? …
I believe these paths can re-converge
Once the voices of the forests were heard
When this time of greed and hunger purges us
We’re no longer afraid of the dirge
When our memory of conviction can emerge
When you can stop and listen to the birds.
Folk music is often a means of conveying beauty and joy, but also a message. This season, birdsong might be what we need to hear so we never have a “silent spring.”