Great Books of the World – Part 11

“Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall.
He will end by destroying the earth.”

Albert  Schweitzer

In this post, I am writing about Rachel Carson, whose prophetic warning in her famous book “Silent Spring” steered our attention into the path of the oncoming truth. This book was highly influential in highlighting the American government’s abuse of new chemical insecticides like DDT which was sprayed over farmland fields without any regard for the welfare of humans or other creatures. The highly toxic material was derived from lethal compounds developed originally for use in war. In her book, Rachel Carson wrote:

“For many years public-spirited citizens throughout the country have been working for the conservation of natural resources, realising their vital importance to the Nation. Apparently, their hard-won progress is to be wiped out, as a politically-minded Administration returns us to the dark ages of unrestrained exploitation and destruction.”

She was a messenger of modern environmentalism, and through her facts-finding that rocked the world, she became a towering figure whose light illuminated our sense of the world forever. The power of her words showed us how interconnected are our actions with all life on Earth. Rachel Carson was a woman of substance and courage, and generations were directed by her moral compass. We envy her spirit and we can only resolve to continue her work, needed even more now than ever.

RACHEL  CARSON

27 May 1907  –  14 April 1964

Rachel Carson was born in the Allegheny Valley at Springdale, the youngest of three children. She grew up on a Pennsylvanian farm, where she learned about nature and wildlife. From a very young age, she knew that she was born to write. When she was ten-years-old, her first work was published in the St Nicholas literary magazine for children. A reader and loner, she was a devotee of birds and all nature. She continued writing during her studies at Pennsylvania College for Women where she was studying English. The biology course reawakened her ‘sense of wonder’ which she had always brought to the natural world, and she switched to zoology.

Allegheny River, Springdale in Pennsylvania

The family homestead in Springdale

Graduating manga cum laude in 1928, Carson went on to John Hopkins University to complete her Master’s degree in zoology. It is at this time that she first saw the sea and fell under the spell of its eternal mysteries. Her strong lyrical prose caught the attention of the editors at the Atlantic Monthly. She was invited to write her first work ‘Undersea’ for them. Its feeling was near-mystical  – the ever-changing changelessness of life on Earth. She explained that it was the sea that fascinated her, ‘for the sense of the sea, holding power of life and death over every one of its creatures from the smallest to the largest, would inevitably pervade every page.’

This is an extract that I feel compelled by its haunting beauty to quote:

“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 shorebirds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of years, 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. These things were before man ever stood on the shore of the ocean and looked out upon it with wonder; they continue year in, year out, throughout the centuries and ages, while man’s kingdoms rise and fall….  Thus… the parts of the plan fall into the place: the water receiving from earth and air the simple materials, storing them until the gathering energy of the spring sun wakens the sleeping plants to a burst of dynamic activity, hungry swarms of planktonic animals growing and multiplying upon the abundant plants, and themselves falling prey to the shoals of fish; all, in the end, to be redissolved into their component substances… Individual elements are lost to view, only to reappear again and again in different incarnations in a kind of material immortality…. Against this cosmic background, the life span of a particular plant or animal appears, not as a drama complete in itself, but only as a brief interlude in a panorama of endless change.”

In 1940 she was working at the Fish and Wildlife Service as an editor specialising in marine zoology. She was liked by all her colleagues for her uncommon competence and dedication but also for her childlike enthusiasm and undiminished wonder at the myriad ways of nature which made a scientific expedition out of the simplest foray into field or tide pool.

At that time, Carson learned of the government’s plans to distribute through the Department of Agriculture pesticides, even more toxic than DDT, including dieldrin, parathion. heptachlor, malathion, and others, for public use and commercial manufacture. “The more I learned about the use of pesticides, the more appalled I became, I realised that here was the material for a book. What I discovered was that everything that meant most to me as a naturalist was being threatened and that nothing I could do would be more important.”

She intended to make sure that if the public continued to be led by politicians who stood by and allowed the looting of the world resources and the pollution of the land, air, and water that our children must inherit, it would not be because we knew no better. In 1957, startling wildlife mortality in the wake of a mosquito control campaign near Duxbury, Massachusetts, was followed by a spraying of DDT over eastern Long Island for the needless eradication of the gypsy moth. That year Carson protested in a letter to the Washington Post about the use of highly poisonous hydrocarbons and organophosphates allied to nerve gases to chemical warfare build-up from small beginnings to what a noted British ecologist recently called “an amazing rain of death upon the surface of the earth.” Most of these chemicals have long-persisting residues on vegetation, in soils, and even in the bodies of earthworms and other organisms. If this “rain of death” has produced such disastrous effects on birds, what of other lives, including our own?

Rachel Carson hit upon a metaphor with her book title “Silent Spring” which would draw these dire warnings to a powerful point.

“There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings… Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change… There was a strange stillness… The few birds seen anywhere were moribund; they trembled violently and could not fly. It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that once throbbed with the dawn chorus… of scores of bird voices, there was now no sound; only silence lay over the fields and woods and marsh.”

The house of Rachel Carson in Colesville, near Silver Spring, Maryland

Silent Spring, serialised in the New Yorker in June and July of 1962, raised the violent fury of the entire chemical industry. As the book said: “This is an era dominated by industry, in which the right to make a dollar at whatever cost is seldom challenged.” She was accused of many things, including that she “ignored God” and she responded: “As far as I am concerned, there is absolutely no conflict between a belief in evolution and belief in God as the creator. Believing as I do in evolution, I merely believe that is the method by which God created, and is still creating, life on earth.  And it is a method so marvellously conceived that to study it in detail is to increase – and certainly never to diminish  – one’s reverence and awe both for the Creator and the process.”

By the end of 1969, Time would run Carson’s photo at the head of an environmental article citing new evidence that completely supported the data in Silent Spring. The book became a runaway bestseller, with international reverberations.  Miss Carson was awarded the Audubon Medal and numerous honours. Famed as a scientist whose timely book on chemical poisons served as a warning to the world about the insatiable nature of corporate greed, she was at the same time a great writer, perhaps the finest nature writer of her century. Throughout her life, she was brave and fierce in her defence of what she held most sacred, which was the wonder of life and all its creatures, even such malignant creatures as ourselves.

She wrote about forest spruce behind her cottage which she planted:

“The island voice which came… most beautifully and clearly each evening was the voice of a forest spirit, the hermit thrush. At the hour of the evening’s beginnings, its broken and silvery cadences drifted with infinite deliberation across the water. Its phrases were filled with beauty and its meaning that were not wholly of the present, as though the thrush were singing of other sunsets, extending far back beyond his personal memory, through aeons of time when his forebears had known this place and from spruce trees long since returned to earth had sung the beauty of the evening. Mankind has gone very far into an artificial world of its own creation… But I believe that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders  and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

Hermit Thrush

The song of the Hermit Thrush

 

At one of the World Wildlife Fund dinners, its former president, the Duke of Edinburgh said:

“Miners used canaries to warn them of deadly gases. It might not be a bad idea if we took the same warning from the dead birds in our countryside.”

Since Rachel Carson wrote “Silent Spring”, her fame can be seen acknowledged everywhere…

The Rachel Carson Bridge spanning the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

 

I leave the last word To Rachel Carson, a remarkable woman:

“The  ‘control of nature’ is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man. The concepts and practices of applied entomology for the most part date from the Stone Age of science. It is our alarming misfortune that so primitive a science has armed itself with the most modern and terrible weapons and that in turning them against the insects it has also turned them against the earth.”

 

 

74 thoughts on “Great Books of the World – Part 11

  1. I found this post to be little different, in ways that though it hurts to see that men got corrupted to an extent they even lost an insight-not all but the one who started holding high positions, but the story also flows subtly. It could be the nature of Rachel and for what she lived. By the end it leaves one astounding to the depth of which some souls were made to do their work. I found her life through your narration inspiring dear Joanna. Also that at one point i started thinking of how come i missed zoology as a subject, I could have taken it and stamped my life more towards better focused beings and nature. But as you know, not every one could be Rachel like.
    And it made me yhink how much similarity can be carved out between a Pesticide and a politician.

    Thank you Joanna.
    Many of us know one more being because you are here for us, for them.

    Love to you
    Nara x

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Thank you, Narayan, for your insightful, as always, thoughts. I deliberately change the subject, often dramatically, firstly, for the element of surprise, but also when someone leads me, as you have done, to the subject or an issue, India – Empire of the Spirit was your idea and there isn’t a day that someone is not emailing me about its impact. Yesterday, I had two such messages. And so I have to thank you, Narayan.

    Love to you too,

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rachel Carson is truly a remarkable woman. She felt strongly for nature, devoting her education and life to it; for nature is everything and in all of us. Amazing read, thank you Joanna, also, the song of the Hermit Thrush is adorable. It’s the sound of happy nature. ❤️

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Dear Farah, I love your comment, especially “nature is everything and in all of us”, as this is how I think, feel and exist from a very young
    age. I included the song of the Thrush because the happiest, even spiritual moments in my life are when I stand in my garden and one of my many birds’ friends sits on the branch next to me and sings just for me.
    Thank you.

    Joanna

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Thank you, Farah, I appreciate it more than you can imagine your today’s comment.

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I had heard the name of Rachel Carson, but the way you have brought out her story interspersed with amazing pics, has developed my fascination for her. I fully agree that the evolution is God’s method of creating the life on the earth. As regards use of pesticides, it is so rampant now everywhere along with the use of chemical fertilizers, that consequences are completely ignored. It has been rightly described as ‘the rain of death.’ Thanks Joanna for penning such a beautiful article, as always. And I really liked the song of the Hermit Thrush.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Joanna,
    Thank you for your new fascinating article which tells us about the fight of this courageous and brilliant woman.
    You have to have a hell of a determination to bend certain administrations or lobbies.
    A few years ago I saw an edifying report on this subject. The agent orange used during the war in Viet-Nam not having been completely consumed, and well it was spread on farmland to convert it into a trafficked herbicide …
    The human being believes that he can dispose of the planet and this “without his consent”, he has abused it for so long.
    I did not know this personality, and reading you I am delighted that such a person could have existed. What touches me is that in addition to the fine politics that this woman had to be, she seems to have a very beautiful pen, sensitive and poetic.
    She has such a pure, almost childish gaze on nature, I find that very touching.
    I thank you for this wonderful discovery, and confirm again that my google translate buddy is doing his job well and in no way betrays the light of your pen.
    In any case, it works very well for French.
    I’m kissing you strongly
    Corinne

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I will take the time to explore your blog, I will discover many other articles …
    I kiss you
    Corinne

    Liked by 2 people

  9. You are always so inspiring Joanna, I love reading your posts, as they hold great value ing engaging the mind and moving the heart satisfyingly❤️❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you my dearest Joanna ❤️🥰

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Dear Corinne, thank you so much for such a wonderful review! I also love Rachel’s innocent, childlike view of nature and her talent
    in writing about it in such a mesmerising way., I cannot tell you how much your friendship means to me.

    Love,
    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Thank you again, I don’t think I can trust Google translater in his expression “kissing you strongly”, it sounds as I was addressed by
    a python or an alligator!
    Perhaps a French version would be safer…

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Thank you so much for writing a comment as I do value your view on all subjects, but as I told you, especially your heart-touching love for your
    your beautiful country, India.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Thank you so much for writing this wonderful comment as I value your opinion on many issues, but especially when you write
    in a heart-touching way about your beautiful country, India.
    Thank you.

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Thank you again, and I very much appreciate your listening to the song of my song thrush/

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  16. I suspected that when I write “I kiss you hard” the translation is completely weird …
    I apologize Joanna.
    But in French “je t’embrasse fort” just means that I kiss you while holding you against me, in my arms with tenderness and affection !!
    This needed to be clarified;)
    Je t’embrasse fort Joanna !!

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Dearest Corinne, being held in your arms with affection sounds wonderful! I am glad it isn’t a python speaking! By the way, what does
    this sign by the end of the word “clarified” means?

    Liked by 1 person

  18. You made me laugh when I was sad today, thank your Corinne.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Thank you!!! I think I am going to be in tears of happiness by the end of the day!

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Thank you, I will be on the Frech side soon!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Thank you!!

    Love,

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  22. clarified – make clearer or more intelligible.
    in French we say “clarifié”, a bit like Indian butter😂

    Liked by 1 person

  23. No, no, Corinne! I know, of course, the meaning of the word, IT IS THE SIGN you wrote/put AT THE END of this word!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I’m thinking about you and Ashley a lot right now, because you’ve gone back into national lockdown …
    We will be entitled to it soon, and that does not make me happy at all.
    The children will come back home and we will have to be very vigilant so that they do not drop out. I have very serious children but by dint of this pandemic story uses even the best wishes …
    And work will still be shaken up by these repeated cuts, the economic shock will be terrible. Our restaurateurs, culture, dance hall, cinema, gym and bar owners are all on the brink.
    If you want you can write to me, I will be very happy to talk to you.
    I wish you that this gray cloud passes away from your heart and your head Joanna, and in the thought I give you a huge hug that reboots.❤️💖💜
    Corinne

    Liked by 1 person

  25. It is a difficult time for many people. I am lucky that as a writer I actually love solitude, and I have many wild and not so wild
    animals around me. Wii tall to you soon.
    Love,
    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Thanks a lot for your generous comments about my writing and India. I’m overwhelmed! In fact, you write passionately covering minute details of the topic. I like the way you handle the topic. Good wishes!!

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Yes, I love chirping of birds. If you study it closely, you can guess what they say. Thanks again!!

    Liked by 2 people

  28. Heart warming and heart wrenching all at the same time! A remarkable human being who remained true to her convictions despite the adversity and the ignorance that confronted her, and who never gave up. And ‘thank you for the music!’ Nothing as sweet as birdsong 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  29. I like that, KK. Absolutely believe it! And Rachel Carsen–one of those seminal people. She once said, ““In nature nothing exists alone.”” Nice don’t you think?

    Liked by 2 people

  30. Thank you, Amanda, I am so glad that you pointed out two profoundly important issues; “never give up”, should be thought in primary and secondary schools until it becomes a mantra for life. And the birdsong, so uplifting, without it life would be dull and lifeless.
    Thank you.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Oh, yes, Jacqui, I think Rachel’s gift of wisdom was to speak for people, globally. The book was translated into so many languages, and when we read it, we agree with everything she is saying because every word is purest common sense.

    Thank you.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  32. I really don’t understand how I missed this beautiful writer, as I only discovered her in recent years! What she tells us in her book is exactly how I feel about the current state of our earth, our only home! I love Narayan’s expression about the similarity between pesticides and politicians although I could not say that all politicians should be sprayed with those words!
    Following on from Corinne’s exquisite comments I would have dearly loved to embrace Rachel Carson and kiss her strongly! She stands for those qualities of humanity that give me hope; unfortunately, there are not many people like her as our world is consumed by greed.
    I wish I could remember where I read the following words: ‘all life came out of the ocean; each one of us comes out of the waters of the womb; the ebb and flow of the tides is alive in the ebb and flow of our breathing’.
    This morning I was depressed but this post has lifted me up and using Corinne’s beautiful expression: Je t’embrasse fort Joanna! 💌💌💌🙏

    Liked by 2 people

  33. Oh, Dear Ashley, you depressed? I don’t believe it, you are like a jumping prawn, sizzling in the hot wok! In one fell swoop, you have made happy Narayan, Corinne, and me!! Thank you. We checked and the beautiful quote comes from the work Anam Cara by the Irish poet, John O’Donohue
    Je t’embrasse fort too!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Thank you again!!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  35. This is, as always with regards to the natural world, relevant! I remember seeing an advertisement from back when DDT was being promoted for household use. It was encouraging people to use it for everything and anything related to cleaning.

    Jumping to the present, with what we now know of its harms, it really makes you think twice about everything being sold to us as ‘safe’ and ‘child-friendly’.
    Thank you for the post Joanna:)

    Liked by 2 people

  36. Thank you, Gannu, it is so kind to read it and comment. Greatly appreciated

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  37. A lovely write-up as always, Joanna. I am an ardent admirer of nature and hence in almost all my poems I try to bring in that element. You take me right there with your posts. Loved the song of the Hermit Thrush.
    Stay blessed. Have a lovely day❤️❤️💐

    Liked by 3 people

  38. Thank you, Diana, it is especially nice to read that you loved the song of the Thrush because they are rare now, and not many people have a chance to enjoy this unusual birdsong – the repetition of each note three times.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  39. Thank you again! Of course, I have in my wildlife garden a friendly song thrush!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Loved it this time too! I was immediately hooked on to Rachel Carson’s story due to many reasons. This was also the first time you wrote about a female instead of male. It’s an inspiring story of how a woman can single-handedly change a lot of things no matter how big the country is. We should learn from her to fight wrong things. I fully agree with you terming humans as ‘malignant creatures’.
    I’m sorry I am a bit late. I have stopped being online too much. How was your day, Joanna? Hope you are keeping yourself warm.

    Liked by 3 people

  41. Glad you like the post, although I wrote already about women scientists inc Marie Curie. At the time you have liked it. Try to listen to the song thrush, it is a beautiful sound. Rachel changed things for the better globally as DDT and other pesticides were stopped, But mores sneakily are being introduced. I think her important message was, “Never, ever give up to fight for what you believe”. The same profound message came from Mahatma Gandhi: “Strenght does not come from winning,
    your struggles develop your strength,
    When you go through hardships
    and decide not to surrender,
    that is strength.”

    Perhaps you should remember this message when things are tough in your life.

    I am keeping warm, as much as I can but my hands are cold. As I try to remind myself, people suffered much worst fate in gulags in Syberia, it helps to keep things in proportion. It isn’t that bad.

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  42. This was a fantastically deep exploration you achieved in a brief space. So that’s very well done, and this is easy and enlightening to read. I love the idea of a writer as someone who makes a statement beyond the art itself and entertainment value, because writing can also keep of events or periods in time and tell of something of history, and it can also teach us something and make of think of the world differently. That’s amazing that she used knowledge to show the dangers of destroying the planet. Really like the words you had in bold; those are worth thinking about. And the idea of evolution being created by God makes sense as well; they do not seem to be things that would have to be set apart. Science can be such a good thing but it can be abused in awful ways. I hope posts like this remind everyone that we need to make changes before it’s too late. It’s great how you went about this post. Really am enjoying this series you’re doing. Stay safe! Have a great day!

    Liked by 2 people

  43. Thank you, Benjamin, I am looking forward to your comments as you are doing such a professional job. The only thing missing is you listening and appreciating the beauty of Hermit thrush singing, the sound of nature. It is so rare now that it might be found only in the recordings, rather than in woods, soon, I do hope not

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

  44. You’re welcome. Hopefully we’ll do a better job of conserving the planet so that we can keep these beautiful things around. Looking forward to what you have in store for next week!

    Liked by 1 person

  45. Thank you, Benjamin. I will try not to disappoint but it is a bit dramatic, again those pesky humans…..

    Joanna

    Liked by 2 people

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