Paul Brooks on Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson was a realistic, well-trained scientist who possessed the insight and sensitivity of a poet. She had an emotional response to nature for which she did not apologize. The more she learned, the greater grew what she termed “the sense of wonder.” So, with Silent Spring, she succeeded in making a book about death a celebration of life. In her intense feeling for our relationship to the living world around us, she was ahead of her time.

Re-reading Silent Spring today, one is aware that its implications are far more broader than the immediate crisis with which it dealt. By awakening us to a specific danger — the poisoning of the earth with chemicals — she has helped us to recognize many other ways (some little known in her time) in which mankind is degrading the quality of life on our planet. And Silent Spring will continue to remind us that in our over-organized and over-mechanized age, individual initiative and courage still count: change can be brought about, not through incitement to war or violent revolution, but rather by altering the direction of our thinking about the world we live in.

If I myself had to choose a single revealing moment during a long friendship with Rachel, it would be shortly before dusk one July evening at her Maine cottage, while she was working on The Edge of the Sea. We had spent and hour after supper examining sea creatures under her brightly lit binocular microscope: tube worms, rhythmically projecting and withdrawing their pink, fanlike hydroids; green sponges whose ancestry goes back to the earliest record of life on earth. At last we were finished. Then, pail and flashlight in hand, she stepped carefully over the kelp-covered rocks to return the living creatures to their home. This, I think, is what Albert Schweitzer (to whom Silent Spring is dedicated) meant by “reverence for life.” In one form or another it lies behind everything that Rachel Carson wrote.

Source: Adapted by Jeffrey S. Cramer from Paul Brooks’ unfinished memoir, Worth Remembering (from The Paul Brooks Collection)