Jerry Nelson: Flocks of hope
Fifty million blackbirds can’t be wrong.
That’s approximately how many blackbirds have been infesting our grove lately. If their arrival is a sure sign of spring, then spring has surely arrived.
I don’t know why the little featherbrains like our grove so much. The leafless branches of our trees appear to have sprouted millions of black knobs. Our farm would not be a pleasant place to be if you were creeped out by the Hitchcock movie “The Birds.”
The blackbirds spend all day singing their fool heads off. The fact that they are awful singers doesn’t dampen their enthusiasm one iota. If anything, they seem to think that the worse the song sounds, the louder it needs to be sung.
When I walk out onto the lawn the racket is loud enough to drown out casual conversation. It’s like being at a rock concert except that the music is terrible and there aren’t any words to the song.
The entire avian congregation will suddenly take flight. There’s no discernible signal that triggers this massive, choreographed liftoff. Maybe Sandy, our golden retriever, passed gas or perhaps the birds felt the subatomic vibrations from a supernova that exploded somewhere deep in our galaxy.
The cloud of birds might dim the sun for a brief moment. Blessed quiet reigns once again, and it’s almost as if the blackbirds had never visited. That is, except for the blotchy reminders they left on our deck and the windshield of our car.
The urge to plant a garden is very strong in me this spring. Maybe it’s because Biblical flooding wiped out our garden last year. Or maybe it’s because this epidemic has made everyone feel vulnerable and growing my own food makes me feel a bit more secure.
The only shortages I’ve seen at the supermarket have involved TP. And if I were to calculate the value of the manual labor that went into raising a bushel of cucumbers, I would have to report myself to the authorities for paying my employee (me) mere pennies per hour.
But it’s impossible to put a price on the sight of a shelf filled with jars of tomatoes and pickles and beans. It gives me a deep sense of comfort and satisfaction.
Another reason there’s an increased interest in gardening is that it makes us feel that at least we’re doing something about this situation.
At times such as these, we look for lessons from the past. I recently listened to a podcast that compared the coronavirus to the WW II bombing strategy that came to be known as the Blitz.
In September of 1940, Germany initiated a nighttime bombing campaign against London and other major English cities. High explosives rained from the velvety blackness for 57 nights in a row.
During the daytime, Londoners went about their business as best they could, knowing that any one of them could be struck down by the next sunrise. This randomness was a feature, not a bug.
Antiaircraft guns had been placed on rooftops throughout London. When the night bombing began, military leaders ordered their gunners to hold their fire, assuming that it would be impossible to hit their unseen adversary.
A few nights into the bombing, Churchill overruled his military leaders and told the gunners to fire at will. With no reliable targeting system, the gunners had no choice but to use the technique that’s known as “spray and pray.”
As expected, this had little effect on the raiders. But the effect on the citizens of London was immediate and profound.
Londoners saw the guns blazing away from the rooftops and thought, “We may not win, but by God, at least we’re doing something about this!”
The gunner crews worked relentlessly to improve their equipment and techniques. At the beginning of the nighttime bombing campaign, it took an average of 20,000 rounds to bring down one enemy aircraft. After only a few months, that ratio had dropped to less than 3,000 rounds per downed invader.
We are just at the beginning of this thing. We’re still at the “spray and pray” phase of this struggle.
Our brave nurses and doctors and EMTs are fighting hand-to-hand on the front lines. They deserve our eternal gratitude for their tireless devotion and their willingness to risk their lives for others.
In medical research facilities all around the globe, the best minds of our time are working relentlessly. I have every confidence that they will find ways to target our unseen adversary and make the world safe once again.
And perhaps the day will come when this will seem like a flighty flock of blackbirds that briefly dimmed the springtime sun.