North of Gainesville, a church camp once attracted thousands of visitors because it was built around the gushing waters of Hornsby Springs. Then the spring stopped flowing and the camp had to spend m
“Mankind has gone very far into an artificial world of his own creation. He has sought to insulate himself in his cities of steel and concrete, away from the realities of earth, water, the growing seed. And intoxicated with a sense of his own power, he seems to be going farther and farther into experiments toward the destruction of himself and his world. . .I do believe, that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and the realities of this universe about us, the less taste we shall have for its destruction.”
Rachel Carson, From A Sense of Wonder, a PBS documentary
April is the time of year when nature comes alive. Growth blossoms in living color in our front yards, in our gardens, and on our farms. We emerge from hibernation and venture outside to breathe in the essence of rebirth and our mouths water in anticipation of the fresh foods soon to grace our tables from our gardens, farmers markets, and grocery store produce departments.
Most of the plants beginning to grow right now, both edible and aesthetic, depend on one little step in the process – pollination by those stinging little buzzers, the bees.
A beautiful symbiotic relationship exists as the bees go from each sweet nectar-filled flower to bring us one-third of the food we put in our mouth. It may be the most important third.
Yet bees – in particular the commercially raised honeybees – have been in drastic decline in recent years. Some blame climate change; others see encroachment of habitat as the culprit; and a wide-growing number of experts wonder at a new set of pesticides called neonicotinoids – similar chemically to nicotine – as the toxic killer.
The New York Times reported on March 29, 2013, that honey bee deaths have expanded drastically in the past year. Commercial beekeepers say forty-fifty percent of their hives have been destroyed. These hives pollinate many of the fruits and vegetables in the United States. Bees in the wild are more difficult to track, but BBC News science reporter Rebecca Morelle says bees are “facing decline around the world.” She suggests that researchers are wondering if the neonicotinoids are causing some of the problem.
The European Commission is pushing to ban the pesticide, but chemical companies are protesting. In the United States, where Colony Collapse Disorder is running rampant, the pesticide industry is disputing any connection.
When Rachel Carson wrote her now famous Silent Spring that led to the eventual ban of DDT as a pesticide in the 1960s, she was labeled a lunatic by the pesticide industry. An editorial in Newsweek soon after its publication in 1962, compared Ms. Carson to Senator Joseph McCarthy because the book stirred up the “demons of paranoia.”
Fortunately, the Kennedy administration decided to come public with a report that criticized the industry and government several months after the publication of Silent Spring. That report silenced the critics and vindicated Ms. Carson. Eventually, Congressional hearings began which concluded with the decision to create a federal policy to safeguard the environment.
The verdict may still be out on the precious bee, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture urges more research into the thirty-three percent loss occurring annually to the commercial honey bee populations.
And let’s not forget the work of pioneers such as Rachel Carson who made it possible for the bald eagle and other creatures of the earth to come back from the brink of extinction – an extinction caused by humans intent on a quest to kill whatever gets in the way of profit.
Trails in the Sand by P.C. Zick follows environmental writer Caroline Carlisle as she follows a story to save sea turtles from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Along the way, she stumbles upon secrets from her family’s past that threaten destroy her marriage.
(Note: This is the first of several blogs devoted to Rachel Carson and her book Silent Spring, which was published 50 years ago.)
Yesterday, when I said I was researching the life of Rachel Carson, I was asked “Who is Rachel Carson?” It’s time to remember this woman and her courage, tenacity, vision, intelligence and creativity.
Rachel Carson wrote the book Silent Spring, published in 1962, which set in motion a string of actions that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and passage of legislation such as the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act. All of these exploded into fruition within a decade of her death. She exposed our country’s practice of wholesale spraying of lethal toxic substances on all things to kill one pest. The book took four years to write because as she researched one case it led to discovering many more cases where poisons were killing everything they touched.
While the book became a bestseller almost immediately, it created a firestorm of vicious attacks on Ms. Carson by the pesticide industry and the media. She remarked that her critics represented a small, yet very rich, segment of the population.
An editorial in Newsweek soon after its publication, compared Ms. Carson to Sen. Joseph McCarthy because the book stirred up the “demons of paranoia.”
I have to admit my knowledge of Ms. Carson was limited until one day in the spring of 2010 after I’d moved to the Pittsburgh area. I knew enough about her to go to a screening of a new documentary from PBS about her life. A Sense of Wonder chronicles the last two interviews Ms. Carson ever granted. She conducted them from her cottage in Maine and her home in Baltimore during her final year on this earth. Actress Kaiulani Lee stars in this documentary using Ms. Carson’s own words from the interviews.
The film – only 55 minutes in length – moved me to tears several times. Ms. Carson was a writer – a poetess of prose – from an early age. But in college at Pittsburgh Women’s College (now Chatham University) the study of biology beckoned. She went on to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service where her talents as a writer emerged in the writing of boring fact sheets about species.
Born in 1907, she grew up on the banks of the Allegheny River in the community of Springdale, just upriver from the city that was coughing its way to becoming the Steel Capital of the World during the years of her childhood. Ms. Carson played in the hills surrounding the river as it wound its way to meet the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers. When she found a fossil on the banks of the Allegheny, she became obsessed with the sea and the history of nature.
It wasn’t until her later college years that she finally made it to the ocean for the first time, and she never left the east after her memorable experiences in worshipful study of the sea. Her first three books explored all aspects of the ocean and gave her enough financial success to quit her job with the Service.
“Finally, I was the writer I’d always dreamed of becoming. I thought I had abandoned my writing for science,” her character states in A Sense of Wonder. “But it was the study of science that was making my literary career possible.”
She didn’t want to write Silent Spring, but as her character points out in the documentary, “the subject chooses the writer, not the other way around.”
I agree. Rachel Carson’s spirit swooped down upon me here in western Pennsylvania an hour from where she was born and raised. I’m compelled to write about her and to use her as my muse in my daily writing life. The subject has chosen me, and this is only the first of several blogs about Ms. Carson and her impact upon the world. Now 50 years after its publication, we need to remember what she gave us more than ever.
I’ll leave you today with a quote from her regarding her philosophy.
“For there is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, in the ebb and flow of tides, in the folded bud ready for the spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature. The assurance that day comes after night and spring after winter.”