When most people think of Rachel Carson, they think of her groundbreaking work Silent Spring which is largely credited for helping to launch the environmental movement and through which she is often said to have “saved the birds.”
This “battle cry” book urging us to take a closer look at the use of chemical pesticides led to regulations and restrictions still in place today and the eventual establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency.
But what I know and love Rachel Carson best for is her book, The Sea Around Us, in which she speaks of the ocean in eloquent prose and through which she tells the story of the evolution of biological life on this planet.
It was not until the Silurian time, some 350 million years ago, that the first pioneer of land life crept out on the shore. It was an arthropod, one of the great tribe that later produced crabs and lobsters and insects. It must have been something like a modern scorpion, but, unlike some of its descendants, it never wholly severed the ties that united it to the sea. It lived a strange life, half terrestrial, half-aquatic, something like that of the ghost crabs that speed along the beaches today, now and then dashing into the surf to moisten their gills. (12)
This book is so delicious I want to sleep with it under my pillow and dream with it all night long. Written like poetry, a love song to the ocean and to the creativity of creation, it tells our history. This is a brilliant book and it changed my life and the way I position myself in the world forever.
It is a praise song to the planet and Mother Sea.
The deep sea has its stars, and perhaps here and there an eerie and transient equivalent of moonlight, for the mysterious phenomenon of luminescence is displayed by perhaps half of all the fishes that live in dimly lit or darkened waters, and by many of the lower forms as well. Many fishes carry luminous torches that can be turned on or off at will, presumably helping them find or pursue their prey. Others have rows of lights over their bodies, in patterns that vary from species to species and may be a sort of recognition mark or badge by which the bearer can be known as friend or enemy. The deep-sea squid ejects a spurt of fluid that becomes a luminous cloud, the counterpart of the ‘ink’ of his shallow-water relative. (50)
Rachel’s voice in this book inspired me to try to also write of the natural world in this way, a way that makes the reader feel their own embeddedness in this story, their own awe at being part of this magnificent Earth story and their own feeling of belonging.
It changed the way I walk at the beach, and in the forest, the way I consider myself and my own history. Yes, my ancestors are these creatures that slowly manifested biological life in the early briny sea, the same way my body was formed in the briny waters of my mother’s inner sea. Invertebrates, cephalopods, arthropods, amphibians, reptiles, warm-blooded birds and mammals—ancestors all. I honor them.
When they went ashore the animals that took up a land life carried with them a part of the sea in their bodies, a heritage which they passed on to their children and which even today links each land animal with its origin in the ancient sea. Fish, amphibian, and reptile, warm-blooded bird and mammal—each of us carries in our veins a salty stream in which the elements sodium, potassium, and calcium are combined in almost the same proportions as in sea water. (13)
Above all Rachel Carson was a scientist: A Marine biologist. It matters that she was a woman scientist in the 1950s writing with authority and giving this kind of expression to the planet and our relationship to it. It is a woman’s voice: the voice of a woman scientist speaking for and about the Earth, speaking of its oneness, its wholeness, its connectedness. Stunning.
There is, then, no water that is wholly of the Pacific, or wholly of the Atlantic, or of the Indian or the Antarctic. The surf that we find exhilarating at Virginia Beach or at La Jolla today may have lapped at the base of antarctic icebergs or sparkled in the Mediterranean sun, years ago, before it moved through dark and unseen waterways to the place we find it now. It is by the deep, hidden currents that the oceans are made one. (147)
Before publishing Silent Spring, Carson had published Under the Sea Wind (1941), The Sea Around Us (1952), and The Edge of the Sea (1955). Before that she was editor in chief of all publications of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Silent Spring was published in 1962 in response to the rise of the chemical industry after WWII.
The tides are a response of the mobile waters of the ocean to the pull of the moon and the more distant sun. In theory, there is a gravitational attraction between every drop of sea water and even the outermost star of the universe. In practice, however, the pull of the remote stars is so slight as to be obliterated in the vaster movements by which the ocean yields to the moon and the sun. Anyone who has lived near tidewater knows that the moon, far more than the sun, controls the tides. (150) The most curious and incredibly delicate adaptations, however, are the ones by which the breeding rhythm of certain marine animals is timed to coincide with the phases of the moon and the stages of the tide. In Europe it has been well established that the spawning activities of oysters reach their peak on the spring tides, which are about two days after the full or the new moon. In the waters of northern Africa there is a sea urchin that, on the nights when the moon is full and apparently only then, releases its reproductive cells into the sea. And in tropical waters in many parts of the world there are small marine worms whose spawning behavior is so precisely adjusted to the tidal calendar that, merely from observing them, one could tell the month, the day, and often the time of day as well. (160)
It should be noted here that Rachel Carson is currently the victim of a negative slander campaign by the alt-right. Brietbart news, when headed by Steve Bannon called her a “mass murderer.” In their effort to end the EPA, she is one of their targets.
The Los Angeles Times reported in February of 2017 that “Google’s celebration of Carson in 2014, upon the 50th anniversary of her death, prompted Breitbart News to label her ‘The 20th Century’s Greatest Female Mass Murderer’ and ask, ‘Will Google be paying tribute to any of the other mass killers of the 20th century? Hitler? Stalin? Mao? Pol Pot? Probably not. But then, none of the others have had the benefit of having their images burnished by a thousand and one starry-eyed greenies.’ The executive chairman of Breitbart at the time was Steven K. Bannon, who was, for a time, the top advisor, to President Trump.”
See full article here: http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-carson-myth-20170206-story.html
Nasty Women Writers supports Rachel Carson’s voice and is committed to not allowing the disappearance and denigration of her work and the agency her voice helped initiate: The Environmental Protection Agency. Urging the general population to educate themselves about the dangers of chemical pesticide use and government agencies to use caution in applying them does not one a murderer make. We need Rachel Carson’s voice and we need to honor her work.
Read a poem inspired by The Sea Around Us
The Earth was molten, hot liquid
Upon it, no solid ground
Only thick, fluid fire
Slowly It began to cool
On this congealing, sappy surface
A great sun tide began to move
The flux grew, gaining momentum
Stretching longer and wider
Larger and further
Faster and higher until
An immense chunk of steaming lava
Went spinning away
The moon rose out of the Earth
Shaping Herself into consummate roundness
Caught whirling in the orbit of Her origin
It began to rain
Down pouring for days
Drizzling for decades
Showering for centuries
In cool, everpresent darkness
Did it rain
Creating the sea
Into deep craters of stone
Did She collect Herself
Leaching minerals from continental rock
Phosphorus, potassium and magnesium
Carrying Herself into Herself
Brewing briny fluid
Primal watery womb:
The First Mother.
~Theresa C. Dintino. 1995
After Rachel Carson’s, The Sea Around Us
In the introduction to the 1989 edition of The Sea Around Us, Ann H. Zwinger writes:
“By the time she died in 1964, Carson had been transformed from a scholarly woman writing about a vast subject into an embattled, tenacious fighter against DDT. Silent Spring was, pure and simple, a call to battle and changed our lives in many ways, primarily by forcing us to recognize the danger of indiscriminate use of pesticides. The earlier books about the sea came out of a deep and abiding love for her subject: this book about pesticides came out of bitter realization, despair and fear. Gone is the easy charm of style, replaced by the crisper voice of authoritative, well-informed, angry woman. She was vilified and misrepresented; powerful corporations that should have known better attacked her. But her research stood, and what she wrote made a difference. Surely no one could wish a finer epitaph than that.”(xxv)
Rachel Carson is a #NastyWomanWriter
©Theresa C. Dintino, 2017
Rachel L. Carson, The Sea Around Us, (Oxford University Press, 1989)