Organic Apples

Joni Mitchell’s Timeless Environmental Anthem and Losing the Birds-approved Apples

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When Joni Mitchell penned the lyrics of Big yellow taxi” – a song that went on to become popular culture’s environmental anthem for decades to come, even World Environment Day (June 5) had not started as an annual event.

When she wrote the song, the nine times Grammy award winner singer-songwriter was on her first time trip to Hawaii in the year 1967-68.

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Recalling her inspiring moments in Hawaii, she said


I arrived there at 11 o’clock at night and the next morning I ran to the window and threw back the curtains and sure enough, there it was, paradise, you know, green, lush hills, old Sugarloaf Mountain up there, white birds flying low, Myna birds all over the place, and, right in the middle of it all, was a big parking lot [laughing].

So I wrote this little rock and roll song to commemorate the occasion.

According to her, when the song first came out it easily became a regional hit in the state of Hawaii because the population there woke up to the fact that their paradise was being ruined. However, it took another two decades for the song to penetrate the consciousness of the people in most other places. “That is a powerful little song because there have been cases in a couple of cities of parking lots being torn up and turned into parks because of it…” she said. 

Almost half a century later, unfortunately, the words of the song are as relevant a call for conservation as they were then. After all, we are still going on paving the paradise and putting up a parking lot on it.


Hey farmer farmer —
Put away the DDT
Give me spots on my apples,
but leave me the birds and the bees. Please!

These sweet lines from the song have also been inspiration for my latest art – Apple Tree & Chickadees.

In case you didn’t know, DDT is a persistent organochlorine pesticide that causes serious harm to birds and pollinators. The chemical has not been used in the United States since 1972 but is still used in several other areas of the world. Today, chemical industries are churning out new kinds of Neonicotinoids and Pesticides every day, that continue to threaten these defenseless lives in nature and we constantly come across stories about decreasing bee populations and household birds getting extinct.

Apples of Childhood
Image: Molly Blackwood on Unsplash

The heartfelt, beautiful stanza above brought to me a nostalgia about a forgotten, brief time of my life as a small kid when much fewer stops were involved in our food’s journey from a farm to our home. I faintly remember my grandmother advising everyone to pick up an apple with birds’ bite marks on it, because that was the surest indication of that particular apple being the sweetest of the bunch! No one had to look for organic produce, because, most of it was nothing but that, organic, by default.

That was to be changed even before I could grow up enough to grasp the depth and meaning of her wisdom and truly appreciate the bliss of eating those fruits. The “bird approved”, stained, wild, and imperfect looking fruits were soon to be replaced by polished and perfect looking ones, and would never be that sweet again.

Can’t we once again dream of a pure and benevolent planet when an apple tree was shared and enjoyed fearlessly by all – Birds, Bees, Us?

Article ©2021 Gyaneshwari Dave

Feature Image: Zen Chung on Pexels

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