Monthly Archives: April 2015

A Tribute to Rachel Carson, Author of Silent Spring

In 1962, an American marine biologist named Rachel Carson published her third book. She called it, Silent Spring.

This book was a masterpiece. Although she died several years before someone coined the term “Earth Day,” and April 22 – today! – was designated an official holiday, Miss Carson is widely credited with laying the groundwork for the modern-day environmental movement.

Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring

Silent Spring is one of those books that jolted the culture. That’s why I included it as one of the reading selections chosen by the fictional Collier County Women’s Literary Society in my first novel. As my narrator, Dora Witherspoon, says after the book club reads the book:

“None of us ever looked at the poor Everglades the same again. We’d been raised to think of nature as our enemy. But as we learned from Silent Spring, you couldn’t drain the swamps, or use DDT to kill mosquitoes, without a reckoning. The eggs laid by some birds were becoming so fragile – because of DDT – that they’d break under the weight of their mothers’ tiny bodies. One day soon, if we didn’t stop, we might wake up to the sound of nothing – no birds singing. A silent spring.”
Remember, this was 1962. My husband, who grew up in Collier County, Fla., recalls kids on bicycles chasing the mosquito-spraying trucks, darting in and out of the DDT fog.

Miss Carson’s book was a wake-up call that there was a huge price to be paid for living in denial. Miss Carson was shamed, slammed, and ridiculed by the chemical industry, which stood to lose billions of dollars. Miss Carson anticipated these attacks but bravely went ahead anyway, even though she was suffering through treatment for cancer and was weak and exhausted.

Clearly, we still have a long way to go when it comes to protecting the earth. At times it seems like a losing battle. There is a man in my neighborhood who sprays an “herbicide” (chemical!) on every inch of his property. I saw a pregnant woman recently spraying the same “herbicide” (again, chemical!) on weeds in the cracks of the sidewalks in front of her house, where children walk to school. Why is this acceptable? Why is this legal?

The answer is: Money. As the saying goes, If you want the truth, follow the money trail. That’s what Miss Carson came up against in 1962.

In Methodist Sunday School, when I was growing up, we were taught that we as humans are stewards of the earth, and we must protect it. For inspiration we need to look only as far as Rachel Carson and her book. Bless you, Miss Carson! What an amazing legacy.

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In Praise of Teachers

Years ago, when daffodils first made their appearance each Spring in Columbia, South Carolina, my mother would help my sister and me gather the nicest ones from our yard.

We didn’t keep them.

We gave them away – to our teachers.

Teachers were special. That was the message we heard in big ways and small, and throughout the year. In the books we read, teachers were often heroines. From Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series to the story of Helen Keller, teachers were portrayed as individuals who were to be greatly admired.

I don’t remember buying gifts for our teachers, though perhaps we did. But those daffodils stick in my mind. After selecting the best – only the best – of these cheerful flowers, Mom showed us how to wrap each cut stem in a soaking wet paper towel, which was then ever-so-gently encased in tinfoil. Then we made a grouping and tied it together with a bow. In case water found a way to leak around the tin foil, the flowers – except for the petals – were wrapped in a bread wrapper, which was in turn placed into a paper lunch sack.

Admittedly, this was not the most attractive presentation in the world, but it worked. By the time my sister and I hop-scotched our way to the school bus stop, rode the bus with awful little boys intent on squishing our precious flowers, and traversed the busy hallways of Forest Lake Elementary School, the daffodils still looked as if they had just been cut. A triumph!

I remember proudly marching into my first grade classroom and presenting mine to my teacher, Mrs. Emma Long. There is no other word for it: She beamed. She even clapped her hands together and made a happy shriek. And, she praised the great care that went into preparing the flowers for the journey.

After removing the wrappings, she placed them on her desk in a vase she filled with water from the drinking fountain in the hall.

To this day, I can’t look at a daffodil without thinking of Mrs. Long.

Do you have a favorite teacher from your childhood? What presents did you bring to her?

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