A pair of Eastern Bluebirds | Photo by Sandysphotos2009 | This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Times are strange – terrifying, actually – when amid the promises of spring we suddenly find our lives upside down.

Here at Shalom Acres, our five-acre hobby farm in Greenville’s apple orchard country, our thoughts in this season usually turn to waking up the John Deere, getting the gardens manured, and stacking a new delivery of hay. 

As winter recedes, we welcome the honest and basic labor, the need for it recurring annually as a sign that life’s rhythms are intact, and we are good to go.

Our anxieties are lost on the redwing blackbirds, newly returned on schedule just before St. Patrick’s Day, and the congregation of robins that scurry along our greening meadow.

The garlic we planted in frosty November is poking through, as are the resilient shoots of tiger lilies and irises.

In previous years we might have asked, “What could go wrong?” But in the tumult of 2020, the answer is all too obvious.

Now we search for reassurance wherever we can find it, seeking balance between anxiety and optimism.

Sometimes, a small but unexpected surprise tips the balance toward optimism – and that’s where the bluebird comes in.

Do not confuse this creature with the thuggish, bellicose blue jay that terrorizes smaller birds at the feeder. The male bluebird is that dapper fellow in the cobalt suit and russet vest who’s a backyard showstopper.

Naturalist Stanwyn Shetler captured it best when he described the bluebird as “a flying piece of sky, a living poem, a crystal note, an emblem of nature’s moral conscience.”

Another naturalist, John Burroughs, put it this way: “The bluebird enjoys the preeminence of being the first bit of color that cheers our northern landscape. The other birds that arrive about the same time… are clad in neutral tints… but the bluebird brings one of the primary hues and the divinest of them all.”

Judy Garland introduced many of us early to the bluebird when she immortalized it singing “Over the Rainbow” in The Wizard of Oz.

Bluebirds are less common in Rhode Island than they once were, as their ideal habitat falls to development. Though we put up nesting boxes long ago, we haven’t seen one on the property in years. 

We’ve missed them, especially since they hold a place in our family lore.

The story goes that when my late mother-in-law was hoping to start a family many decades ago, she endured the disappointment of two miscarriages. Told that she was pregnant again, she shortly afterward spied a bluebird, and knowing its reputation as a symbol of joy, was convinced that for her, the third time was the charm.

And so it was.

The story, re-told over the years, resonated the other day at Shalom Acres when after all this time, a neon-hued bluebird fluttered from a towering pine to the rail of our deck. It preened there for a long moment before darting with purpose to a nesting box on the barn and disappeared inside.

It’s hardly a guarantee that our current problems will resolve anytime soon, but the promise of what happens next, high on the barn, does put a breeze beneath the wings of one’s spirit: There will be resolution, there will be recovery – there will be baby bluebirds.

Gerry Goldstein (gerryg76@verizon.net), an occasional contributor to What’s Up Newp and What’s Up Rhode Island, is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist who has been writing for Rhode Island newspapers and magazines for 60 years. 

Gerry Goldstein

Gerry Goldstein, an occasional contributor to What's Up, is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist who has been writing for Rhode Island newspapers and magazines for 60 years