Rebels with a Cause – Heroes All

There are several women whose stories have crossed my path in recent months. I’ve written about Rachel Carson and her pioneering efforts to bring controls over pesticides used indiscriminately in this country after World War II. She didn’t want to write about birds and fish dying, but the more she researched the topics, the more she realized she had no choice. She was vilified by the pesticide manufacturers when Silent Spring was published in 1962, but her book brought awareness and eventual changes and controls over DDT that was killing wildlife and making people sick. She didn’t set out to create a whole governmental agency (EPA) to monitor the poisons and pollution of our new industrial world, but she did, and she did it because she knew someone needed to speak for the voiceless.

Statute of Laura Haviland

Statute of Laura Haviland

In researching my latest release, Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier, I came across some references to a woman I’d known all my life as “Aunt Laura.” Laura S. Haviland lived 1808-1898, and she saw injustices in the way slaves and women were treated. She opened her southeastern Michigan home as a stopping point on the Underground Railroad as she assisted–and sometimes accompanied—runaway slaves to Canada. She opened a school attended by my great grandfather and dedicated its purpose to educating women and African Americans. She didn’t have to open herself up to these causes, but with her Quaker upbringing she saw no other way to live her life. Her life is the blueprint of someone dedicated to fighting for causes that seemed hopeless, but left a lasting legacy. A statute stands in front of the Lenawee County Courthouse in Adrian, Michigan, with the dedication, “A Tribute to a Life Consecrated to the Betterment of Humanity.”

Recently, I watched Erin Brockovich about a single mother of three who fought the huge utility giant, Pacific Gas and Electric. Best of all, she won. It was good to see this movie again. Erin Brockovich— real person—discovered in her job researching for attorney Ed Masry that people living in Hinkley, California, were coming down with mysterious illness and extreme cases of cancer. As Erin continued her research with Masry’s permission and sometimes reluctant participation, she discovered the culprit. PGE was dumping toxic waste into the waters of Hinkley. Erin didn’t want to get embroiled in this ghastly business, but seeing children and mothers suffering so much she had no choice but to become involved. In 1996, PGE was forced to pay out $330 million to more than 600 residents of Hinkley. Erin’s dogged research resulted in the largest payout for this type of lawsuit. Her website states it best, “If you follow your heart, if you listen to your gut, and if you extend your hand to help another, not for any agenda, but for the sake of humanity, you are going to find the truth.”

There are many other women and men out there who heed the call to action. Some of them become famous; yet others are sitting right next to us on the bus, train, or airplane, in the line at the grocery store, or at the PTA meeting. They do their work and follow their heart simply because they feel they have no choice. These are the real rebels with a cause.

When I was younger and much more jaded than I am today, I thought there were no heroes. But now that I’ve mellowed, I’ve taken the time to realize some of my closest friends fit the same mold of Rachel Carson, Laura Haviland, and Ern Brockovich. They are folks living their lives for the betterment of humanity.

These other heroes get up every morning and set out to make the world in which they live a better place.

There’s my very dear friend who’s a nurse. She goes to work each day with one thought in mind, and that’s to put the patients first. She helps them find their way through the red tape of insurance, and she makes sure they leave the office or the phone call with answers. She is their advocate, and after spending the past year in and out of doctor’s offices, I know firsthand how a kind word, or even a smile, goes miles toward easing my troubles. She probably won’t have a movie made of her life, but she’s a hero to many who come under her tender loving care. I know—she’s always been one of my stalwart supports. When I returned to Michigan for the funeral of my mother, I stayed at her house. One night I came home dispirited and depressed. On the table waiting for me was a plate of hot spaghetti, garlic bread, and a glass of my favorite wine. I never forgot that night and the tender loving care she showed me on a night of deep despair. She does that for everyone within her orbit.

Another dear friend brought her older brother into her home to care for him as his MS worsened. He can’t use either his arms or legs, but she ensures he’s showered every day and comes to the table with the family for most meals. She’s led by example in many things she’s done, but perhaps none greater than what she did after her daughter was killed in a drunk driving accident. The daughter, Sara, turned her keys over to her boyfriend that fateful night, and she died while the boyfriend survived. My friend went to court when it came time for sentencing of the young man. She spoke up and said it could have been her daughter driving and that she forgave him and hoped for leniency in his sentencing. She’s remained a support for this young man as he faced life after the accident. Her unselfish actions make her a hero for all time, even though Hollywood probably won’t visit her either.

These women stand as the examples of lives well-spent to benefit us all. They don’t do it for glory or fame; they do it because it’s the right thing to do. I can only sit back in awe and attempt to follow in some very big footsteps. This week of Thanksgiving, I give thanks to all the rebels who fight for causes no matter the cost or the sacrifices. Our world is a better place because of them.

Who are your heroes today?

Where Have All the Bees Gone?

bumble bee hard at work

bumble bee hard at work


By Patricia Zick @PCZick

“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.”

From Rachel Carson website

From Rachel Carson website

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.

DSC02403

 

New Release from P.C. Zick

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.

Falling in Love Twice

two loves – the man and the city

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

I fell in love twice several years ago. The first time I fell in love with my husband. The second time I fell in love with the city he called home for more than three decades:  Pittsburgh.

“You’re moving where?” family and friends asked. Even strangers asked me why I would move from Florida, the Sunshine State, to the cold north. I still am asked that question.

Each time I answer that love brought me here – twice. Pittsburgh remains a well-kept secret from most of the country, except for those of us who know about its not-so-secret charms.

How did this second love affair begin? Perhaps it began in a geography class in Michigan, my first year in college in 1974. That’s when I learned about the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers converging to form the mighty Ohio, giving Pittsburgh a starring role in the Industrial Revolution of this country.

The idea of water creating our urban centers left an impression. Then I never thought much about Pittsburgh until 2009, when love brought a renaissance to my world.

Downtown

Probably the first surprise was the landscape of the Pittsburgh area. When I drove into the city from the airport, I marveled at the hills and the valley below created by the three rivers of Pittsburgh. There are particular vistas all around the city and its environs that allow me to believe anything is possible.

I lived in Florida for nearly thirty years, having moved there from Michigan in 1980. Many of the residents come from somewhere else. Finding a native Floridian resembles the search for that old needle in the haystack.

When I first came to Pittsburgh, I noticed a difference right away. Most people I met and still meet were born and raised in the Pittsburgh area. Although they might think of moving somewhere else, they really do not intend to leave. I’ve learned those who do leave tend to return.

Soon after I moved to the Steel City, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported folks volunteered to paint planters downtown to freshen up for spring. No wonder Pittsburgh could reinvent itself after U.S. Steel left town. The people – not institutions – made it possible because they love this place, which uniquely exists as the western East, the eastern West, the southern North and the northern South of the United States.

Places of green still exist here because the hills make some sections uninhabitable, both surprising and delighting me. I am an urban country girl, and I have always wanted it both ways. Here I’ve found that balance in both my surroundings and in my personal life.

I love the hills, but I love the architecture of the churches, commercial buildings, and homes as well. Studying those structures is a lesson in American history all by itself. The bridges are also a wonder of engineering and architecture. Pittsburgh has more bridges than any other city in the world.

Ohio River bridge 25 miles west of downtown Pittsburgh

My love affair intensified after a visit to the Heinz History Center. I found myself curiously emotional as I learned about the city and its inhabitants. I never realized so many influential folks from Pittsburgh played an important role in my life. Dr. Benjamin Spock taught me I would not spoil my child by picking her up when she cried, and Mr. Rogers visited our neighborhood every day to reinforce the concepts of friendship and citizenship in my young daughter.

Rachel Carson, whose environmental writing helped develop awareness of DDT and the pollutants in the air, inspires me in my writing and life. Nellie Bly broke through glass ceilings allowing me privileges unknown to the women of her generation.

Stephen Foster immortalized the place I lived in Florida for nearly three decades through song. He never visited “way down upon the Suwannee River,” but he called Pittsburgh home.

Although I did not know it at the time, Pittsburgh and its inhabitants served as the backdrop to my life, from the ketchup I poured on my burgers to the polio shot I received as a child. No wonder I fell hard for this place of steel with its soft edges and open arms.

My surprise at falling in love with Pittsburgh is exemplified in the surprise that comes whenever I approach the downtown area from my home 45 minutes west of the city. Within one mile of the center of Pittsburgh, there is no view of a skyline, only the hillside and then the sign announcing the Fort Pitt Tunnel.

Approaching Fort Pitt Tunnel on I-376

The tunnel is a mile long cutting through the rock of the hillside. The tunnel’s lights guide the way when suddenly daylight is seen at the end.

light at the end of Fort Pitt Tunnel

Suddenly, the car bursts out into the sunshine and I’m crossing the Monongahela River and there is the surprise and delight of a city in its Renaissance – Pittsburgh in all it glory with the Ohio to the left and the Allegheny straight ahead, and a distinctive skyline of steel and glass. That’s all it took for me to fall in love with my new city.

Pittsburgh skyline

Pittsburgh also provides the backdrop for my new marriage. As I traverse the city and experience the Strip District and its glorious markets, cruise the three rivers and cheer the Penguins, Steelers, and Pirates, I am certain my decisions to marry and to move here are victories for love both times.

Heinz Field – home of the Steelers

Note: This was originally published in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on May 5, 2010 in the “Raves” guest column as “Raves: She first fell hard for a Pittsburgher, then for his city.” It’s published under my former name, Patricia Behnke, three months before our wedding.

Perspectives on Silent Spring

By P.C. Zick@PCZick

I recently attended a symposium on Rachel Carson’s impact fifty years after the publication of her landmark book Silent Spring.The event, sponsored by the Rachel Carson Institute at Chatham University, brought in people from around the country to discuss our world today and how it changed as a result of one lone woman – a writer turned biologist turned writer – yelling out to the world that we were poisoning our very air and water by attempting to rid the world of wholesale spraying of deadly pesticides that killed everything when there was only one intended victim. Ironically, there were times when the intended culprit, such as the mosquito, didn’t die, but other species in its wake did.

I walked away from my one day there realizing that Carson was really a moderate, not the radical foaming-at-the-mouth communist portrayed by the chemical industry. She actually saw a place for pesticides in agriculture. She was a moderate in that sense. She merely wanted restraint and research to rule. In a speech she gave to the National Women’s Press Club in 1963, she said that most of her harshest critics had never read the book.

The symposium was held at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, which is only fitting. Carson grew up on the banks of the Allegheny River just a few miles from the Aviary, known as  “America’s Bird Zoo.” If not for the alarm sounded by Silent Spring in 1962, the National Aviary might be known as a natural history museum rather than a haven for injured and displaced birds.

We do the world a disservice when we harshly judge and criticize without sifting through all the evidence. There’s room for all to be heard, but not if the rhetoric turns to cacophonous shouting spewing forth disingenuous lies. Luckily, the truth prevailed in this case, and Ms. Carson’s lone voice became a chorus that eventually regulated and monitored the pesticide industry. We must continue that chorus today.

Celebrate Rachel Carson and Earth Day 2012

Oregon Coast 2008

By P.C. Zick@PCZick

The Earth Day Network  credits the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring,  in 1962 as a “watershed moment for the modern environmental movement.”

In the emerging light on the pollution we were spraying into the air, Earth Day 1970 took a share of the spotlight.

That first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, came in part as a public response to the gargantuan oil spill in Santa Barbara in 1969. Ironically on the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day in 2010, news of another oil spill began trickling into the media. But little attention was paid to an oil rig fire in the Gulf of Mexico because we were all patting ourselves on our eco-friendly backpacks for the strides made in past forty years.

When the green bio-degradable balloons burst several days later, our spirits fell as flat as those deflated balloons to learn of the massive amounts of oil spewing forth from the depths of the sea and with no possible solutions in sight to stem the flow after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded.

Ms. Carson’s book from fifty years ago brought change – that can’t be disputed. The Environmental Protection Agency and passage of legislation such as the Clean Air Act  and the Endangered Species Act  stand as testament to the revolution she brought to bear on industry in the United States. But it didn’t protect us completely from big corporations’ quest for profit over safety.

Her words still are relevant and pertinent today, and we must not forget them. We’ve come so far since she made the connections between what we do to the environment and the toll we pay for its destruction. We can’t let her down now as we prepare to celebrate another Earth Day.

The PBS documentary A Sense of Wonder uses Ms. Carson’s words in her final year to sum up her legacy.

“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.”

She also states, “There is no single remedy for this condition.” But as Earth Day 2012 is upon us, I wonder what we can do as individuals to keep her vision alive 50 years after the publication of Silent Spring.

I’d love to hear from you. What do you do or what do you believe we all should do to prevent mankind from destroying himself? Or do you believe we are headed on the right course already?

I can’t wait to hear what you think.

Pardon my blog

By P.C. Zick@PCZick

I’m learning daily on how to best post my blog, but something I did today with the settings caused my posts to post twice to Facebook and Twitter.

Overexposure is not the greatest thing if you want to be taken seriously in this writing business. At least it turns me off as a consumer, reader, citizen, person.

So in an effort to correct the overexposure I might have received on my Rachel Carson piece this morning, I’m doing this short little ditty to see if I corrected the problem.

However, learning about Rachel Carson and remembering her work over and over again is not necessarily a bad thing.

No Birds Sing – A Fable for All Time

The sedge has withered from the lake,

And no birds sing.

John Keats (La Belle Dame Sans Merci, 1819)

By P.C. Zick@PCZick

Imagine a world where the birds no longer sing from the treetops; imagine a world where the trees no longer tower above our heads; imagine a world where life is death. That’s the world Rachel Carson imagined as she delved into the research for her revelatory book, Silent Spring.

In the first chapter “A Fable for Tomorrow,” Ms. Carson paints a bleak canvas for what happens in a town where the stillness in the air and sky and ground is caused by man’s attempt to unsuccessfully control nature.

“No witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people had done it themselves,” she wrote.

Although the town’s silence was a fictional account imagined by Ms. Carson for what could happen in a future world where man continued the folly of attempting to get rid of nature’s unappealing and destructive side by destroying all things in nature, she was discovering that her vision was not far off the mark in certain parts of the country.

When a friend wrote her about the death of birds in her bird sanctuary in Massachusetts, Ms. Carson was in the process of beginning her fourth book about children and nature. The friend was certain that aerial spraying over the bird sanctuary to kill mosquitoes also destroyed her bird population. The friend never wanted her sanctuary sprayed in the first place. She wrote Ms. Carson, wondering how she could stop the next spraying planned by the state of Massachusetts. The question gave Ms. Carson pause as she wondered what kind of rights any of us to prevent the government from spraying poisons over us.

She began researching and discovered the public had no say over the decision. And even though mosquitoes were the target of the spraying in Massachusetts, grasshoppers and visiting bees were the victims. The mosquitoes survived while the birds and insects died.

At first, Ms. Carson thought it would be a good article, but when she approached the magazines, they didn’t want to touch it. Their biggest advertisers were the corporations benefitting the most from the sale of the pesticides.

She then decided it should be a book, but she didn’t want to write it. She wanted to write about life, not poisons and death. None of her respected writer friends, including E.B. White, wanted to broach the topic. But the more she learned, the more she knew the topic must be put out for the public to understand about the nonselective poisons that had previously only been used during wartime and never tested. Within 12 years of World War II ending, the use of these poisons to control agricultural and domestic pests became common place.

One overriding question guided her writing and research: “Is it possible to lay down a barrage of poisons on earth without threatening all life?”

The answer still echoes today with a resounding “No.”

The documentary on Ms. Carson’s final interviews, A Sense of Wonder, shows the shock waves she felt when her research went beyond Massachusetts to Michigan to Florida to California to Wisconsin and beyond.

In Florida, efforts to control the sandfly resulted in the death of millions of fish and crabs. In Michigan, the fight to eradicate Dutch elm disease resulted in the death of robins through a chain reaction. Earthworms ate the residue of poisons left on the leaves of the diseased trees and within the year the robins that ate the earthworms were dead or infertile. She discovered the destruction of watersheds, the contamination of milk supplies, and evidence of children falling sick and some dying after playing with empty bags that once contained these poisons we were pouring over our land.

The book had to be written despite the backlash that might be heaped on the author. 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.

Ms. Carson knew of this decision before her death, but she never saw what reverberating actions came in its wake. Silent Spring remains as a warning, but not yet a manifestation.