May 21, 2007

Remarks by Guest Moderator Robert Michael Pyle

John, I thought yours was the strongest, most interesting essay in the book, Courage for the Earth. I am proud to be in there with it.

I am currently at the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC) in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, to address the 9th annual reunion of Fish & Wildlife Service retirees. There was a ceremony today in honor of Rachel at the Patuxent Research Refuge, and it is just a week until her 100th birthday on May 27.

I am staying in the Rachel Carson Lodge at NCTC, and this afternoon I got to handle and peer through Rachel's magnifying glass, in the archive, thanks to FWS historian Mark Madison. That gave me chills and tingles. I have recently come from the banquet. I sat on the floor of the museum upstairs and watched the film about Rachel Carson that plays continuously in the display about her, drinking Beringer Merlot that I swiped from the banquet hall. Tomorrow I will bird around the voluptuous NCTC grounds all day, enveloping myself among the wood thrushes, cardinals, and others that, thanks to Rachel, make this anything but a silent spring.

Last week I attended a meeting of my local Grange in my little village of Gray's River, Washington. Much of the talk was about an effort to encourage small, organic farmers to grow local foods and sell them at the Wahkiakum County Farmers' Market. Another subject was our effort to reduce or eliminate the spraying of herbicides along the roadsides of our county. And then I learned that one member had prevailed (in my absence) to have the Grange Hall bug-bombed for flies that in any case were about to disperse after their hibernal period.The irony seemed lost on some members. (This brought to mind my battle to prevent the insecticidal extermination of box elder bugs in the English Dept. at Utah State University when I was teaching environmental writing there in 2002, in the spring, just before their dispersal; two members of that department died of pancreatic cancer last year.) Then last week I watched as helicopters coursed back and forth over a clear-cut across the valley from my SW Washington home, spraying aerial herbicides to prevent regrowth of shrubs that might compete with the short-rotation pulp plantation of conifers; meanwhile obliterating the understory and herbal diversity of the forest floor. The eagles, peregrines, pelicans, and song thrushes are back, thanks largely to Saint Rachel. But how far have we actually come, in terms of egregious and cavalier broadcast of biocides in our environs? Backwards, I fear. Where are you today, Rachel?

Bob Pyle

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Anonymous said...

Note: I posted the below comment in the previous week of May 9. I am reposting it here.

Bob, I second the motion on your question "Where are you today, Rachel": And also to the dedication by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring to Albert Schweitzer who said, "Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the earth." How can there be so much shortsightedness amongst us in this day and age to not see the inevitable of where our current course is leading us? I keep on pounding on this, but I sincerely believe that much of it has to do with the lust for power and greed without regard for the means to that end. Will we ever be able to reverse the trend towards that apparent destruction of our good earth? Are we such a masochistic society that the "Golden Rule" is being mutilated to the point where it says, " I will destroy others, and I expect the same of them"? From my viewpoint, it certainly does not look good. But we must keep on trying to do our part, as small as it may seem, to make a difference.

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with Rudy's viewpoint about the course we're headed. It's obvious that everywhere you turn you can see examples of humans' destructive behavior toward the earth. But most questions have more than one answer, and I see another side to Bob's question. In answer to “Where are you today, Rachel?” I would answer, Rachel Carson is very much among us, her spirit embodied in anyone who has been inspired or influenced by her and her work. She left us her voice as a legacy and though it sure seems hard to make that voice heard it can't be any harder for us than it was for Rachel herself. What Rudy concludes is right. It takes perseverance.

stephen williams said...

Book club readers might be interested to know that two previous moderators, Linda Lear and Mark Madison, were recently quoted in a Washington Post article on Rachel Carson. The front-page article appeared last Friday and is entitled: An Environmental Icon's Unseen Fortitude.

Last night I re-read Robert Pyle's essay Always a Naturalist. It is a testament of devotion. From his discussion I look forward to reading his narrative Chasing Monarchs. His sharing reminds me of an earlier experience.

About twenty years ago I was asked to help inventory boxes of books that belonged to Rachel Carson. Authors mentioned by Robert Pyle and Peter Matthiessen in their essays were certainly represented in this collection of books. The administrator who asked me to help, Shirley Briggs, once made an exquisite black-and-white drawing of migrating monarchs. She reproduced this drawing as a new year's card with the printed message: Onward and Upward.

I have a question stemming from reading Janisse Ray's essay Changing Sex. If someone has not yet had a chance to read it, here is the opening sentence.

"There was once a town at the edge of America where plastics had been banned, as had all chemicals of dubious safety."

Ray honors Carson with an introductory fable, and she backs it up by sharing observations and research that raise warning flags about the safety of plastics.

Earlier this week I saw a notice for a public program entitled Amazing Polymers and Plastics: From Revolutionary Technology to Life Itself. The program speaker, the director for polymers at the National Science Foundation, was to cover new applications such as a computer on a foldable plastic sheet, color-changing clothing, and electronic noses.

Do we have two road diverging? How is a busy consumer suppose to sort out the risks and the benefits of cutting-edge technology? In our free-market economy, who watches out for consumers?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Stephen. Point well made. An excellent and tough question. I agree with you as to its perplexity. I also read Janisse Ray's essay, and I immediately thought about how much plastics impact our everyday lives. It seems we are caught between a rock and a hard place because everywhere we turn there are plastics. But under current circumstances, it seems to me that it is everyone for himself/herself to, in this case, "take the road less travelled" and do the right thing. I look forward to reading others' thoughts and comments on the subject.

julie said...

While I agree with Rudy that we each need to take personal responsibility, Bill McKibben and the Step It Up Campaign emphasize that individual changes can never be enough. We need broad societal, political changes, notably redesigned transportation systems, to achieve the level of carbon reduction required to avoid a dire global wamring consequences. As McKibben says, we need not just to screw in new light bulbs but to screw in new congressmen.

Anonymous said...

I fully agree with you, Julie. There is much that needs fixing. Hopefully the whole system does not collapse before the powers that be realize the dire straits we are in. One thing that I see that needs to happen is for our congressmen to put up a strong stand against the inordinate lobbying interests that are largely to blame for the environmental deterioration going on. Unfortunately when the current crop of congressmen leave office some also join the fray of congressional lobbyists, and the mad cycle continues. I sincerely hope that new congressmen do take steps to stop, or at least slow down, the runaway train "to avoid a dire global warming consequences" as you state.

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