More from and about
Rachel Carson
(biographical info at bottom of page)

  

In every outthrust headland, in every curving beach,
in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.

   

If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children, I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.

      
If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he or she needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him or her the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.
  
  
Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth, are never alone or weary of life.
  
We stand now where two roads diverge.  But unlike the roads in Robert Frost's familiar poem, they are not equally fair.  The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster.  The other fork of the road -- the one less traveled by -- offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.
  
  
One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, "What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew i would never see it again?”
   

To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of year, to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.

     

The discipline of the writer is to learn to be still
and listen to what his subject has to tell him or her.

   

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It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again
to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties
to know of wonder and humility.

   

Over increasingly large areas of the United States, spring now comes
unheralded by the return of the birds, and the early mornings are strangely
silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song.

   

The lasting pleasures of contact with the natural world are not
reserved for scientists but are available to anyone who will place
him or herself under the influence of the earth,
sea and sky and their amazing life.

   
    
In 1962 Rachel Carson's pioneering and meticulously researched exposé, Silent Spring, identified the devastating and irrevocable hazards of DDT, one of the most powerful pesticides the world had known.

This disclosure helped set the stage for the environmental movement of the late 20th century.  The book's publication caused a firestorm of controversy.  Some of the attacks were very personal, questioning Carson's integrity and even her sanity.

Carson, a renowned nature author and a former marine biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, had grown up with an enthusiasm for nature matched only by her love of writing and poetry.  Born in 1907 in Springdale, Pennsylvania, the youngest of three children, Rachel's interest in all living things in the woods, meadows and stream near her home was encouraged by her mother, Maria McLean Carson, who remained Rachel's strongest supporter throughout her life.

Determined to be a writer, Rachel entered the Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham College), but feeling she did not possess enough imagination to write fiction, she turned to biology which always provided material for her beautiful prose.  In 1929, she graduated magna cum laude.

But in 1934, limited finances forced her to withdraw from the doctoral program. With her father's sudden death in 1935, she became responsible for the family's welfare and began her career with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries.

Her first book Under the Sea-Wind published in 1941 did not attract a big audience.  Yet, in 1951, Carson's The Sea Around Us was an instant success, receiving the National Book Award for nonfiction and remaining on the New York Best bestseller list for 86 weeks.  The success of her book allowed Rachel to continue her research and study.

Rachel's interest in the dangers of DDT was rekindled in 1958, by a letter from a friend in Massachusetts bemoaning the number of large birds dying on Cape Code as a result of DDT sprayings.  During the four years it took for Rachel Carson to complete Silent Spring, she was fighting breast cancer and then bone cancer.

Her finished work meticulously described how DDT entered the food chain and accumulated in the fatty tissues of animals, including human beings, and caused cancer and genetic damage.  First serialized in The New Yorker in June 1962, the book alarmed readers across America and, not surprisingly, brought a howl of indignation from the chemical industry.

Anticipating this reaction, Carson included 55 pages of notes and a list of eminent scientists who had read and approved the manuscript. President John F. Kennedy's Science Advisory Committee thoroughly vindicated both Silent Spring and its author.  As a result, DDT came under much closer government supervision and was eventually banned.

The threats Carson outlined were too frightening to ignore.  Silent Spring brought a new public awareness that nature was vulnerable to human intervention.  Rachel Carson died in 1964.  She had overcome extraordinary difficulties and adversities to pioneer a new way of thinking about the connection of all life.

  

  

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