In 1962 I was in my first year of college at the University of Louisville, awash in exciting new ideas. I was also in my first year of meditation with Don Elkins’ Louisville Group, the group that eventually became L/L Research. It was a heady time for me. That year, it was my good fortune to read a book called Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, a modest and unassuming scientist born in Pennsylvania and educated in the eastern USA, taking her Masters degree in Zoology from John Hopkins University in 1932. She began a fifteen-year career in the federal service as a scientist and editor in 1936 and rose to become Editor-in-Chief of all publications for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Her early work was lyrical and aimed at educating children to the wonders of nature, especially the ocean and waters of the Earth. Her books, Under the Sea Wind, The Ever-Changing Sea, Help Your Child to Wonder and Our Ever-Changing Shore were well received and very popular, for her prose was lyrical and she brought the world of wild nature to life with mastery.
However her attention was soon drawn to darker issues. As Rachel Carson’s biographical web site puts it:
“Disturbed by the profligate use of synthetic chemical pesticides after World War II, Carson reluctantly changed her focus in order to warn the public about the long-term effects of misusing pesticides. In Silent Spring she challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government, and called for a change in the way humankind viewed the natural world.”
As Wikipedia sums up the thesis of Silent Spring,
“The book stated that uncontrolled pesticide use led to the deaths of animals and especially birds, but also humans. Its title was meant to evoke a spring season in which no bird songs could be heard, because they had all died from pesticides. Its title was inspired by a poem by John Keats, “La Belle Dame sans Merci”, which contained the lines “The sedge is wither’d from the lake, And no birds sing.”
People like me who read that book were changed forever by her haunting prose and Carson is considered the founder of the environmental movement, the harbinger of many voices to come. It was only to be expected that sources within the government and the pesticide industry would label her conclusions false. Dr. White Stevens, a chemical industry scientist, trumpeted, “The major claims in Miss Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, are gross distortions of the actual facts, completely unsupported by scientific, experimental evidence, and general practical experience in the field.”
However, in the course of the following decades, her observations proved true. She testified before Congress on the effects of DDT and the government banned DDT’s use the next year. She is also credited with inspiring the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency. Carson received many awards, including the posthumously given Presidential Medal of Freedom.
This brings me to Kauilani, the woman who has brought Rachel Carson to life for over a decade now with her one-woman stage play, A Sense of Wonder. This play is based on Carson’s work and much of the dialogue in it is taken directly from Carson’s journals, letters and books.
I was introduced to her by Bill Moyer’s Journal when he did an entrancing interview with her. That interview can be viewed on www.pbs.org. Her words challenged me to bring her to the notice of all who would find her work good.
Lee grew up in Maine, and Rachel Carson’s family summered close to her childhood home, so she was a fan from an early age and read and loved her books about the sea. She grew up to become an award winning actress, working on Broadway, off Broadway, in film and television. Besides the film version of A Sense of Wonder, she is best known professionally for The World According to Garp, Pack of Lies and Aristocrats.
As Lee travels the world, offering her presentation to universities, theaters and numerous conventions concerned with conservation, education, journalism, and the environment, she brings Carson’s lovely prose to life and affects new generations of those who would be better stewards of the Earth upon which they live.
Her writing of this play came after she sat down and read Silent Spring as an adult. She says, in an interview with Sherri Miles.
“I was really disappointed with my parents, their friends, that whole generation, for having had all this information and doing nothing about it. I thought grown-ups were supposed to fix things. I had this childish response of outrage that the world had gone on and ignored this information at everybody’s peril, and then there was this sudden revelation: I’m the grown-up now, I’m the parent, and I’d better do something. It was really that simple. It was like a big sock in the face.”
She goes on to say in that interview,
“The profound mysteries of life are all around us in the natural world, and in its destruction I believe we lose some part of our connection with the divine. In the world we seem to be creating today, the paving over of the natural world, I don’t find a place there, there’s no breath there, there’s no center, no heart.
“As a mother and teacher, I have a sense that kids today are separated from nature. When I asked my children’s classmates what their experience was with nature, one young boy said, “Little League.” This was not the answer I expected or wanted. I feel that unless we give kids a sense of this world bigger than themselves, bigger than mankind, unless we introduce them to it, unless they are encouraged to participate with it, have a relationship with it, a chance to fall in love with it, they will never defend it. They won’t know to because they will think of it as wholly other.
“As we become more suburban and urbanized, there is less and less of a connection with the natural world. I think it is urgent that we scrape up some of this asphalt and introduce our children to this larger concept of the world, where man is only a part of the puzzle, albeit an integral and important part. The reason I wrote the play was to reach out to this next generation and to inspire our own generation to take responsibility for guiding them.”
Synchronistically, my husband and I are currently reading a book by Bill Plotkin entitled Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World. This morning’s reading considers the situation of the normal egocentrically motivated person vis a vis nature:
““She is climbing social and professional ladders while building an impressive investment portfolio. She shops for the best bargains, giving no thought to toxin-producing processes or slavery-based practices involved in what she buys. She does not experience an intimate relationship with or sacred responsibility for the land she lives on, or the sky or waters, or any creatures other than the family pets. To her, nature is generally dangerous and dirty, but sometimes pretty.”
Plotkin’s excellent work is an extremely well organized and articulated book about living as a whole, self-realized being in contact with nature, which he calls the “more than human self.” His voice is strong today, because of Rachel Carson’s work, which the marvelous actress and writer, Kaiulani Lee, has resurrected for our present day.
I open my arms and embrace your spirit! Let us listen to these voices that call us to the loving stewardship of what the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer calls “this fragile Earth, our island home”! Let us grow into the awareness of the community of nature, spirit and flesh of which we are so completely a part! Let us join the dance of harmony and oneness with all of nature, and retrain our ways to those that heal rather than deplete the Earth, our beloved Mother, Gaia.