With Earth Day Nearing, Trio Of Folk Songs Reflect Environmental Concerns

Rachel Carson's 'Silent Spring' Inspired Many In Early Environmental Movement

Hobbs Woods , Fond du Lac County
Alicia Lynn (CC BY-NC 2.0)

After spending over six years researching and documenting the harmful effects of human-produced chemicals on the environment, Rachel Carson published the book “Silent Spring” in 1962. The title of the book refers to the damage done to the environment by chemicals, such as DDT, which poisoned water, harmed crops and killed wildlife like 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-U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, the founder of Earth Day and a primary 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 the National Environmental Education Act.

With Earth Day upon us and in memory of Carson, here are a few songs by folk musicians that are about birds, but really are about the bigger picture, too.

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Claudia Schmidt “Beaver Island Jubilee, For the Birds, Replenish”

First, Claudia Schmidt, who lived in Wisconsin for a time, shares a medley of music and poetry titled “Beaver Island Jubilee, For the Birds, Replenish.” Joy comes through her energetic mountain dulcimer playing and her words speak to the renewal or replenishing of all of nature, including birds and people:

Replenish, replenish

All must be replenished

The water within and without

All that fills us,

all that surrounds us

The great whistling pines,

the tenacious beaver

The ancient loon

The rush of the young eagle’s wings as it dips low over our canoes


Johnsmith “Jaybird”

From the Driftless region of Wisconsin, Johnsmith often uses images of nature in his songs, like this one titled “Jaybird.”

A bluesy number, the song casts the birds as the messengers of what humanity needs to hear and of the dangers of damaging the environment:

Jaybird, Jaybird, here’s your song

Go sing it on the myrtle wood all day long

Go tell the crows and the chickadees

Tell them the sawgrass is bloomin’ and the wind’s in the east

Jaybird, Jaybird, sing out loud

From the east to the west, from the north to the south

Tell all the world there’s not time to spare

We can’t drink the water, can’t breathe the air.

Samara Jade “To the Birds”

Finally, no set of tunes would be complete without the song of the birds themselves. Samara Jade’s “To the Birds” references crows, towhees, chickadees, wood thrushes, warblers, and whippoorwills, including their calls in a song that traces our current environmental challenges to 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 onset of the written word

Or when we stopped listening to the birds? …

I believe these paths can re-converge

Once the voices of the forests are heard

When this time of greed and hunger we purge

We are no longer afraid of the dirge

When our remembrance of conviction can emerge

When we can stop and listen to the birds.

Folk music often is a means of conveying beauty and joy, but also a message. This season, the song of birds might be what we need to hear so that we do not ever have a “silent spring.”

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