2020 is a year that would be a good one to forget. 

Historically, between 12,000-60,000 people die of the flu each year. This year more than 200,000 have died from COVID-19 — and the flu season hasn’t even begun yet. You’ll stay safer if you wash your hands, cover your face and keep your distance.

On top of the flu problems, we are in the middle of a nasty, ugly presidential election campaign. You’ll feel better if you cover your ears and keep away from the TV.

Many of the things that we like to do are restricted. Sports are cut back, restaurants can be dangerous, and crowds are off limits. 

Outdoors alone in nature is better than indoors with people. And that is good, because there are lots to smile about outdoors.

Every day on local Facebook pages, I see people enjoying the outdoors. The annual hiking marathon put smiles on more than 2,000 faces. There are many photos of deer, birds and every other kind of wildlife.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a 10-second online video of a bull elk in Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A few days ago, there was a great 30-second video of a mama black bear and four adorable cubs crossing Lakeview Dr. Even if you were having a bad day, that video would make you smile.

Bluebirds always make me smile. They are one of the prettiest, friendliest, human tolerant birds of any species. You can easily attract them to nest in your yard just by putting up a bluebird nest box. And you can peek in the box several times a week to watch the progress, from nest building, to eggs, to babies to teenagers flying off to college.  

Bluebirds make lots of other people smile, too. As I reported last year, the bluebird was named the official bird of Cumberland County, Fairfield Glade, the city of Crossville and the town of Pleasant Hill.  

In Cumberland County, there are 280 bluebird nest boxes in public areas, such as parks and golf courses, and hundreds more in backyards that are monitored regularly. Those boxes produced more than 1,100 bluebirds and 300 tree swallows this year. That is a lot of smiles in an otherwise bad year.

One particular story will make you smile. “Anna” was new to bluebirding. She installed two new nest boxes in her yard last March. She soon got bluebirds nesting in one box and tree swallows in the other.  

About that same time, the assisted living facility where her 93-year-old mother lived no longer allowed visitors because of the COVID-19 virus. Anna couldn’t visit her mother, but she was able to send photos of the bluebirds in her yard. Her mother loved seeing the eggs and then the babies as they grew each day. 

Anna sent photos every few days and her mother shared them with her caregivers where she lived. Those Tennessee bluebirds brought happiness to a lot of people.

Then, unfortunately, in May, Anna’s mom died. Although she couldn’t visit her mother, Anna said she treasured the times that she was able to share in the excitement of the bluebirds during the last weeks of her mother’s life.  

 Anna said that she hopes that other bluebird enthusiasts will remember to share the wonderful experiences that bluebirds offer with others, both near and far away. She said it was a blessing for her, and bluebirds will always hold a special place in her heart, for bringing joy to her mother near the end of her life.

Bluebirds are sometimes more than just bluebirds. That can make anyone smile.

Comments, questions or suggestions for future nature articles are welcome at don.hazel@gmail.com.