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.
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.