November 4, 2021

Are You A barn Swallow?

By Glenn

Several years ago, we had a surprise visitor set up house on our porch.  It was a barn swallow.  We were excited to watch it create a new home out of mud.

Our boys were still out home at the time, and they had a front row seat to watching nature in action.  The bright blue bird swooped back and forth to bring building material, slowly shaping a small nest. 

At dusk it would patrol my yard.  I always imagined it eating mosquitos.  I hate mosquitos.  Mosquitos would drain every ounce of my blood if I stayed outside during the summer nights.

I saw barn swallows as a good neighbor.  Then the babies came.

My friend, Eric Weisberg, always liked to use birds to contrast with humans.  Eric would say, “Do you know birds don’t poop in their own nest. Humans do. We’re constantly polluting the earth, our nest.”

Baby barn swallows proved Eric right.  At an early age, they learned to put their little bottoms over the side of the nest.  I never imagined baby birds could make so much poop.  They were a mess.

http://By Mario Modesto Mata – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

I have to say though, Eric was only half right.  I think we are more like barn swallows than his original statement implied.

I don’t think either human or barn swallows poop in their own nest.  They both poop on their neighbors’ porch.  We both project our pollution in our neighbors’ direction.  Neither of us thinks about our neighbor.

In the 1970s we in the United States made a big push to reduce pollution and clean up our environment.  This effort went a long way to improve our quality of life. 

One of the biggest changes was removing an unseen enemy: lead. Lead made its way into a wide variety of products from gasoline to paint to shotgun shells.

The impact was devastating.  Lead killed bald eagles.  Lead created mental disabilities.  Lead increased crime rates.  Government mandates removed lead and life improved.

The next big frontier is petroleum products and byproducts.  Can we reduce our dependence on them?  Plastic waste is everywhere from the road side to the oceans.  Carbon dioxide and methane are trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Like lead, CO2 and methane are invisible.  They have big money protecting them.  They have big money lying to make us ignore the poop in our nest.  The damage from greenhouse gases, however, have become all too visible. 

Wild Fires.  Droughts. Tropical Storms.  Melting glaciers.  The earth seems to be treating humanity like I eventually treated the barn swallows.  I got fed up with them so I knocked down the nest and washed the poop away. Let’s improve our behavior before Mother Nature does the same to us.

The marker on the left shows the height of the Mer de Glace in 2003. I took this picture in 2014.
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