“As soon as we heard that, we started trying to think of ways in which we could work together,” Terry Cook, the state director for the Nature Conservancy in Tennessee, told me. “One, we wanted to mitigate the current impact of the roost, but, two, we wanted to think about long-term opportunities to either make the site less preferable to purple martins in future years or to embrace this as a unique Nashville event.”
Within hours, the Tennessee Wildlife Federation and the Nature Conservancy in Tennessee had joined forces to start a fund-raising campaign to help with cleanup costs. “In the conservation community, we felt like we needed to rally around this problem so the symphony wouldn’t have to carry this burden alone,” said the Tennessee Wildlife Federation’s Kendall McCarter, who hosts a nesting colony of purple martins in his own yard every year. “Especially right now, when they’re in a very difficult place because of Covid.”
The initial campaign to pay for power washing the Schermerhorn’s facade was fully funded within hours, but the appeal is ongoing, and any extra money it raises will be used to treat damage to the trees, to replace trees that can’t be saved, and to help with costs that arise during future purple martin migrations. Because the birds, which seem to prefer well-lighted roosts, will most likely be back.
In one way of looking at it, this rescue operation mimics the long relationship between human beings and purple martins themselves: Even as we are responsible for the birds’ troubles, we are also responsible for their survival. The population east of the Rocky Mountains, where 98 percent of all purple martins live, “is completely reliant on people putting up bird houses for them to reproduce in,” said Mr. Siegrist. “If people didn’t do that, the bird would go extinct in the majority of its range. Each one of those birds putting on that spectacular display in downtown Nashville exists because people cared enough to put up a bird house. Each one of those birds came from somebody’s backyard.”
“We’re so thankful to have community partners who are willing to help us deal with this completely unexpected situation,” said Mr. Marx, “because we need to be putting our focus on the fund-raising that’s going to allow us to bring our musicians back to work. This is a time when so many people are under so many forms of duress, but one thing we know is that music is one of those things that brings people together.”
Until then, this collaboration between naturalists and the symphony is, for everyone involved, a happy ending at a time when people are desperate for happy endings. “I’m so excited about how it’s been handled there in Nashville,” Mr. Siegrist said. “I think it can be a blueprint for other communities.”
I find myself dreaming of a time when the musicians of the Nashville Symphony are back in that beautiful space, perhaps even playing a sunset concert, the doors of the Schermerhorn thrown wide to the music of purple martins swooping down from the sky. What a glorious sound that would be, after this year of silence and fear. What a gift to gather together and hear that music — the music our own species makes and the music of the birds. Both at once.
Margaret Renkl is a contributing opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South. She is the author of the book “Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss.”
The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: email@example.com.