June 25, 2007

Comments from Moderator Maril Hazlett

My last week as moderator! Wah. Thanks to everyone who has commented on this wonderful book, Always, Rachel. Thanks also to the folks who have been reading along and participating offline.

For those keeping an eye on the ongoing Carson controversy, I've really enjoyed the recent coverage in the Bug Girl blog - especially this entry on DDT and Africa, as well as her follow-up on insect resistance. I'm all for understanding how evolution still works in the here and now, not just in acknowledging its mechanics during the remote past. I also like being reminded of ecological complexity, that vast world that human knowledge (let alone extremist rhetoric) can't really capture.

... Hey! That sounds a whole lot like some of the lessons of Rachel Carson.

Ending Always, Rachel

I'm not too sure of where folks might be in the letters at this point. Regardless, probably everyone knows how they end. On April 14, 1964, not two years after the publication of Silent Spring, Rachel Carson died from complications of breast cancer.

As far as her work, she left four bestsellers and a marvelous children's book behind. And as you all well know, Carson is credited with helping to inspire an ecological shift in popular consciousness and policy that eventually coalesced into the environmental movement of the 1970s and beyond. No small set of accomplishments.

However, one can't help but wonder. Carson left so much undone. No matter how powerful I find her finished works, I have to admit to being fascinated, maybe even a little obsessed, with what I think of as her ghost books - the ones she never had a chance to complete.

Throughout her papers, these unfinished projects merge and divide and then blend once more: a project on evolution, a remembrance of life through nature essays, larger thoughts about the relation of Man to Life, and a few other fragments. These wraiths represent some of the environmental questions that Carson never had the opportunity to process fully. Arguably, she discussed these nebulous ideas most thoroughly in her writings to Dorothy Freeman.

The questions that these two friends faced together are still critical for us to consider today. Thanks to everyone for discussing these threads so thoroughly.

July Discussion Topic: Under the Sea-Wind Moderators: Patricia DeMarco and Mark Lytle


bug_girl said...

Oh! I'm so happy to have found this site. I'm pleased that her legacy as an educator is being remembered, without all the nasty personal attacks.


Anonymous said...

Carson is indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions, and all "bug girl" can say is that she is glad there are no nasty personal attacks on this webpage

Maril Hazlett said...

Whoa. Irony!

bug_girl said...

What the....???

Well, looks like the trolls attacking Deltoid and me have followed us over.

Why is it necessary to demonize an innocent person (Carson) to talk about DDT?

I don't understand it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Maril and other moderators on this site for the thought provoking questions and to the responders for their comments on the pros and cons of the "ongoing Carson controversy". I must admit that, for my part, it is a bit overwhelming to digest all the material generated on the topic, especially since I am still trying to catch up on previous books, and I have yet to read "Always, Rachel". But I have enjoyed reading all the recent postings and Maril has done an excellent job of summarizing the main points of the book. These reading have enlightened me, and I sincerely feel that I am the better person for the outlook it has given me in viewing how fragile life is and in having a better feel for the kind of treatment our wonderful world deserves. Thanks again to all.

Winston said...

I've been following this blog with great interest. It's so rare to find a real discussion of concepts and ideas going on (even though I haven't chimed in yet). But I would like to second Rudy Losoya's comments. Maril Hazlet has led a very provocative discussion and so much so that it made me go out and find the book which wasn't too easy to track down. But well worth it. As far as I can tell Rachel Carson left a valid legacy that will no doubt go on being the basis for people (debunkers included) to periodically reexamine their relationship to nature.

Willow said...

I agree Maril, that it is haunting to think about what Rachel left undone by dying so young. I'm in 1960 in the letters, and Rachel just found out her cancer had spread. Two things that have caught my attention that we've discussed little are the interesting peek the letters give of the inner workings of a writer's mind while a project is in process, all the details, the times of intense drive and then times when it all seems too much. Also we get a sense of how driven and committed Rachel was, it is a bit obsure in the letters how she became committed to the project that became Silent Spring, but her comments relating to her committment and all the people she talked to during her research are to me, quite fascinating.

bug_girl said...

I thought your readers might be interested in the two new papers published this year about entomology and the reception of silent spring. They were very good, and helped me get a better handle on what was happening at the time of Silent Spring's publication that made it a hit (and a target).

Full citations here:

Nancy Pollot said...

A significant event occurred today that I'd like to make note of here. The American Bald Eagle which has been under federal protections since 1940 when it almost faced extinction, has recovered sufficiently to be removed from the Endangered Species List. (As many people may know, the effects of DDT contributed to the decline of eagle populations.)

The official announcement of the de-listing of the Eagle was made today (June 28) by the Secretary of the Interior. It seems very fitting that the successful comeback of the Bald Eagle, our country's national symbol since 1782, should be celebrated in the Rachel Carson Centennial year.

stephen williams said...

A Bald Eagle is closely observed in action in next month's book Under the Sea-Wind.

I would like to just touch upon a small window into the relationship between Dorothy Freeman and Rachel Carson. After April 1964 Dorothy Freeman was able to grace their relationship with a act of fidelity. Linda Lear writes about it movingly in Witness for Nature.

Thanks Maril for the link to bug girl's blog. Reading about malaria prevention reminds me of someone who regularly goes to Africa to help lead educational programs promoting bed nets.

I am also reminded of when as young boy I once lived in a country with malaria. In my bedroom there were usually one or two large, grey lizards on the walls or ceiling. While it took a while to get use to them (at first, when the light was turned off they sometimes seemed to grow even larger), there was definately a symbotic relationship going on. Looking back now, I view those lizards with their fat bellies as form of IPM (Integrated Pest Management).

[Yo squash bugs -- you've been warned -- you better not mess with the zucchinis growing in bug girl's garden.]

Anonymous said...

The attacks on Rachel Carson just seem to have no end. In a current issue of National Geographic magazine on MALARIA, Rachel Carson is attacked by a seemingly inconspicuous, but obvious, statement within the article calling her the "villain" and the implied "devil", DDT, as the "saviour". But how ironic: on the same tenor, the article discusses alternative ways or controlled methods of chemical spraying for the mosquito eradication and prevention of the disease, which is truer of what Ms. Carson advocated. Of course she was not given credit for that.

Willow said...

I have so enjoyed reading this book, am not done yet, am in 1963, but I really recommend it to those here who haven't yet picked it up. I'm thankful that Dorothy didn't destroy the letters, and that we have the opportunity to see a personal side of Rachel written in her own hand. This last section of the book, filled with her growing realization that she will not beat the disease, is poignant, and makes my admiration for her greater, as she is continually looking on the bright side, and trying to enjoy every day as best she can.

I liked the mention of the bald eagle coming off the list this year, Rachel should get a lot of the credit. She took complex information and boiled it down so the layperson could 'get it'. And changed the way we as a community viewed pesticides.

I found this in the letters, written to Dorothy right before SS publication in 1962(it was already getting much advance attention). "I never predicted the book (Silent Spring) would be a smashing success. I doubted it would, so this is all unexpected and wonderful to me, too. It was simply something I believed in so deeply that there was no other course; nothing that ever happened made me even consider turning back. The other day I saw a wonderful quote from Lincoln that I can't repeat verbatim, but something about "the sin of silence" when one is aware of a wrong is what "makes men cowards." I told you once that if I kept silent I could never again listen to a veery's song without over-whelming self-reproach."

That is the essence of Rachel.

bug_girl said...

Oh, that's a lovely quote! please post the source, if you ever find it.

Willow said...

Do you mean the Carson quote or the Lincoln quote? The Carson quote (which includes the Lincoln) is from Always, Rachel, p.408 of my edition in a letter from June 27, 1962.
Further down on the page Rachel writes the full quote from Lincoln which is " To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards out of men." Don't know where it comes from, but perhaps a Lincoln scholar might be able to help.

Joao Soares said...

Congratulations for your inniciative.
Here a post in my blog
Cheers from Portugal

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