July 27, 2007

Remarks by Moderator Patricia DeMarco

Rachel Carson's Environmental Ethic

As you read this wonderful first published book by Rachel Carson, you can recognize the themes of her core environmental ethic which infused all of her work and drove the major action of her life. Rachel Carson's basic environmental ethic can be simply distilled into four concepts:

* Live in harmony with nature
* Preserve and learn from natural places
* Take precautions against the impact of man made chemicals on the natural systems of the earth
* Consider the consequences of human actions on the global web of life.

The paths of the creatures Rachel Carson follows in Under the Sea Wind give a very personal view of the interconnectedness of the creatures that inhabit the earth. She shows the diversity of living organisma from the smallest phyoplankton to the mighty whales. As you weave through the web of life in the oceans and see the interplay between the sea and the land, it is impossible to ignore the elemental certainty that people are part of this system.

While we are mostly spectators of the passing scene as we visit the shore, we must realize that we are dependent on the forces that move the oceans for the purity of our air, for the flow of the water cycle, for the very currents of change that shape our climate. We humans have not always taken seriously our responsibilities as living creatures, part of a system of intricate relationships. I hope that Rachel Carson's sensitivity to the complexity of the world in Under the Sea Wind enlightens your perspective.

I would like to share a quote from the essay, "Lost Woods" which Rachel Carson wrote for the publicity department of Simon and Schuster to help in the promotion of her book: "Each of these stories seems to me not only to challenge the imagination but also to give us a little better perspective on human problems. They are stories of things that have been going on for countless thousands of years. They are as ageless as sun and rain, or as the sea itself. The relentless struggle for survival in the sea epitomizes the struggle for all earthly life, human and non-human." {Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson. ed. Linda Lear. Beacon Press 1998. p.62}

When you are contemplating the role the oceans play in our lives, consider the lesson Rachel Carson left us, to take true stewardship of the earth by behaving as responsible creatures of the interconnected web of life. We cannot harm one strand without compromising the whole, and ourselves with it.

Patty DeMarco


stephen williams said...

Thanks to this month's moderators for their helpful guidance and perspective.

In reading Under the Sea-Wind I have indeed enjoyed learning about different natural movements -- particularly the movements of eels. To be honest, I knew almost nothing about American eels before I started Under the Sea-Wind. In the movements between fresh water and salt water, the life cycle of eels offers such an interesting contrast with the better known life cycle of salmon.

Earlier this month during an interview on National Public Radio, the biologist Steve Gephard pointed out that there is a lot that scientists do not know about the spawning of the American eel. In the last chapter in Under the Sea-Wind entitled Return, Rachel Carson both acknowledges and embraces the lack of data on eels, leaving her readers the richer.

Here is the first sentence of the chapter entitled Return.

"The record of the eels' journey to their spawning place is hidden in the deep sea."

What follows in the first paragraph is a skillful description of a major natural movement, introduced with qualifying phrases such as "No one can trace . . ." and "Nor is there a clearer record. . . ."

The second paragraph of the chapter entitled Return is a favorite. The qualifying words in this paragraph take away not in the least.

"No one knows how the eels traveled to their common destination. Probably they shunned the pale-green surface waters, chilled by wintery winds and bright as the hill streams they had feared to descend by day. Perhaps they traveled instead at mid-depths or followed the contours of the gently sloping continental shelf, descending the drowned valleys of their native rivers that had cut channels across the coastal plain in sunshine millions of years ago. But somehow they came to the continent's edge, where the muddy slopes of the sea's wall fell away steeply, and so they passed to the deepest abyss of the Atlantic. There the young were to be born of the darkness of the deep sea and the old eels were to die and become sea again."

Anonymous said...

I also would like to thank the moderators of Under the Sea Wind, Patricia DeMarco and Mark Lytle, for their guidance in this month’s discussion. And thanks also to Linda Lear for the excellent background and perspective she provided in the Introduction to the new edition of Under the Sea Wind and how it came to life. Also, I was glad to learn that Rachel Carson “looked back to the writing of this book as one of the happiest times of her life.” I can see why: she was immersed in a subject she dearly loved and cared about, with little or no distraction from external and personal forces that she later experienced and, she was working in her element, outdoors in nature. I found the story fascinating. And I continue to be amazed at Rachel’s great attention and description to the smallest detail of the sea life and natural environment she wrote about. She certainly did her homework! Thanks again for providing this outlet in honor of a great lady. I look forward to the forthcoming readings.

Locations of visitors to this page