There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmonywith its surroundings. The town lay in the midst of a checkerboard of prosperous farms, withfields of grain and hillsides of orchards where, in spring, white clouds of bloom drifted above thegreen fields. In autumn, oak and maple and birch set up a blaze of color that flamed andflickered across a backdrop of pines. Then foxes barked in the hills and deer silently crossed thefields, half hidden in the mists of the fall mornings. Along the roads, laurel, viburnum and alder, great ferns and wildflowers delighted thetraveler s eye through much of the year. Even in the winter, the roadsides were places of beauty,where countless birds came to feed on the berries and on the seed heads of the dried weeds risingabove the snow. The country-side was, in fact, famous for the abundance and the variety of hisbird life, and when the flood of migrants was pouring through in spring and fall people traveledfrom great distances to observe them. Others came to fish the streams, which flowed clear andcold out of the hills and contained shady pools where trout lay. So it had been from the daysmany years ago when the first settlers raised their houses, sank their wells, and built their barns. Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change. Some evilspell had settled on the community; mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens; the cattleand sheep sickened and died. Everywhere was a shadow of death. The farmers spoke of muchillness among their families. In the town, the doctors had become more and more puzzled bynew kinds of sickness appearing among their patients. There had been several sudden andunexplained deaths, not only among adults but even among children, who would be strickensuddenly while at play and die within a few hours.
There was a strange stillness. The birds, for example-where had they gone? Manypeople spoke of them, puzzled and disturbed. The feeding stations in the backyards weredeserted. The few birds seen anywhere where moribund; they trembled violently and could notfly. It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawnchorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other birds voices there was nosound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh. On the farms the hens brooded, but no chicks hatched. The farmers complained that theywere unable to raise any pigs-the litters were small and the young only survived a few days. Theapple trees were coming into bloom but no bees droned among the blossoms, so there was nopollution and there would be no fruit. The roadsides, once so attractive, were now lined with browned and withered vegetationas though swept by fire. These, too, were silent, deserted by all living things. Event the streamswere now lifeless. Anglers no longer visited them, for all the fish had died. In the gutters under the eaves and between the shingles of the roofs, a white granularpowder still showed a few patches; some weeks before it had fallen like snow upon the roofs andthe lawns, the fields and streams. No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced between the shingles the rebirth of new lifein this stricken world. The people had done it themselves. This town does not actually exist, but it might easily have a thousand counterparts inAmerica or elsewhere in the world. I know of no community that has experienced all themisfortunes I describe. Yet every one of these disasters has actually happened somewhere, andmany real communities have suffered a substantial number of them. A grim specter has creptupon us almost unnoticed, and this imagined tragedy may easily become a stark reality we allshall know.