Several years ago, I met Zellie Earnest in the middle of a field in Tellico Hills near the Kingsport Greenbelt.  You see, Zellie was “the bluebird man” here in Kingsport. He taught people how to build bluebird houses at the Senior Center, and committed to preserving and helping the bird’s population thrive, especially on the Greenbelt.

We only spoke for a brief few moments, and paths would cross a few more times until his unexpected death in 2017. However, a brief encounter was all it would take. His passion for bluebirds and my compounding curiosity led to a gift and a promise. 

Before he left, Zellie gave me a bluebird house he had just made. At the time, I told him I recently gotten married, and he made me promise to put this bluebird up at our new home. It took a while, but I finally had a chance to fulfill this promise this year.

Zellie shared some great stories with me that day, and the birdhouse has been following me along the way. Even though Kelli and I have been married now for close to six years, that birdhouse had been on the ‘someday’ list.

Earlier this Spring, we were walking the Greenbelt – in the middle of the COVID stay at home order. As we stepped out of the car at The Exchange Place, I spotted a painted bluebird house along the fence row at this historic site in Kingsport. Painted in a luxurious mesh of tan and splashes of blue color – there he was. I guess it was then – staring at this little house, that message was clear. The bluebird house had to go up – finally.

The next thing I knew, that old piece of lumber in the basement called for a brown primer’s coat and the urge to find the right spot next to the cabana. Add a shovel, a hole, wet concrete, and presto – Zellie’s birdhouse at Old Castle. Check.

It wasn’t long before the purple martins started to investigate the house. He said that would happen.

He also told me about the airplane pin he wore on his shirt. Some stories shape you while others mold you. This one would consume any father at this time of the year.

Triumph and tragedy are everyday experiences, and one has no rule over the other. Zellie and the bluebirds gave him the insight to stay focused on the beauty of the world instead.

Bluebirds are considered as symbols of happiness by many cultures. This Summer, the male and female bluebirds are back and forth in this new house. The rattle of chicks comes in waves too as this population increases in Kingsport. Thanks for the moments of happiness, Zellie. They’re growing.