June 13, 2011

Archived Discussion - Open Again for Comments

Greetings Rachel Carson readers! This blog was active during 2007 as part of the Rachel Carson 100th birthday celebration. Please read commentaries from our notable moderators such as Linda Lear, Tom Dunlop, and John Elder to name a few and of course the interesting and thought provoking comments from our readers. We did remove the ability to comment from the end of 2007 until June 2011. Read to your heart's content. Stay tuned for future Rachel Carson-inspired blog activity.

November 30, 2007

Comments by Moderator Tom Schaefer

Rachel Carson's Legacy

In the summer of 1960 conservationists from many states converged on a peaceful Maine island to witness its presentation to the National Audubon Society by its owner, Millicent Todd Bingham. The focus that day was on the preservation of the natural landscape and the intricate web of life whose interwoven strands lead from microbes to man. But in the background of all the conversations...was indignation at the despoiling of the roads they had traveled.

Rachel Carson in Silent Spring

Let's see. In the summer of 1960 I was a ten year-old boy far from the Maine coast, probably playing a little baseball, but mostly flying my bike down tree-lined streets in a suburban Ohio neighborhood. My natural sense of wonder had not moved me to try to identify many species of birds, besides robins and cardinals; the only trees I knew for sure were apples and cottonwoods, the latter gifting our backyard with their snowy summer mess.

I don't remember much about chemical applications in those days. My parents talked about spraying the apple tree. Every year when the yield became bug ridden, their able-bodied children, of which I now officially qualified, would be loaded into the station wagon and carted off to a rural fruit farm where we helped pick a few bushels of golden delicious for use in Mom's famous apple sauce. The annual hope was our backyard tree would turn around next year with the help of some modern marvel sprayed under pressure. I'm not sure that my dad ever got around to it. I honestly think he preferred taking us kids out for an apple picking day in the country.

But it was August 1960 when Rachel Carson, still collecting stories that would complete Silent Spring, took a day to visit Millicent Todd Bingham's Hog Island just up the shore from her own summer place in Muscongus Bay. The application of chemicals was, it would seem, a topic of some of that day's conversations at the island's Todd Wildlife Sanctuary dedication.

Which brings us to the theme of this last post: Just what is Rachel Carson's legacy?

Some detractors claim hers a "cancerous" legacy which has taught a world population to blame farmers for using chemicals that promote human disease instead of looking into their own genetics. Further, her efforts to ban DDT have condemned millions of malaria victims to unnecessary suffering and death.

In another light, Rachel Carson is celebrated as a twentieth century visionary who successfully articulated the warning over widespread use of chemicals not only on fields and roadsides, but in urban and suburban populated areas. Also, of course, is her extensive body of work in marine biology and her influence in inspiring a generation of environmental activists.

Where do you stand on the Carson's legacy? Has she done more good than harm? What have the lessons of her writing left us? How will her story play out a century from now?

For me, The Sense of Wonder will always be a treasure. Commissioning me to take my own kids, my students, and my grandkids out to experience nature is a pearl beyond price. And for me, Silent Spring will forever be a bridge between the evolution of the conservation movement and my beloved Hog Island, current home of Maine Audubon's Hog Island Audubon Center, which, by the way, has kept the faith of teaching campers about "the intricate web of life whose interwoven strands lead from microbes to man" for almost seventy-five years now. Ms. Carson probably wouldn't mind if I encouraged you to visit their Web site.

Tom Schaefer

November Reading Schedule

The Sea Around Us Field Notes Blog continues through December

November 26, 2007

Comments by Moderator Tom Schaefer

The Good Fairy's Blessing

If I had influence with the good fairy..., I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote to boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.
Rachel Carson in The Sense of Wonder

Those of you who have been with this discussion of The Sense of Wonder since the beginning, have heard me and a few others in our blogosphere relish our position as grandparents. Maybe it's a night walk on a stormy beach with the young person wrapped and carried in a blanket or just a simple amble through a fall forest trying to catch leaves before they hit the ground. In any case, taking time to be mindful with a young person out among the presence of Nature's people (borrowing an Emily Dickinson expression) engenders the stuff of "adult caretaker" joy.

Still, amid these good, memorable times, is the nagging fear of danger and injury. What if something does go "bump" on a night hike or a kid falls down a hill gashing his head? One of my grandsons told me when he was nine that he didn't ride his bike any more because when I took him for a short ride when he was five, he crashed into a mailbox. He wanted nothing more to do with bikes and it was my fault. His reticence to ride has been replaced with a greater ease these days, but the issue remains: what of kids getting hurt while on a journey of discovery?

My interest today in childhood injuries emanates from an event that took place at our house twice during Thanksgiving week. With school out, child care fell to non-working and non-shopping grandparents, as I'm sure was the case in many households across This Great Land of Ours. The seven-year-old grandson, who spends many such days with us, was intent on getting into our mildly wild back yard to continue the work we had started months before: splitting firewood out of a fallen oak. And he wanted to swing the ax.

Do you remember being seven? My memories are mighty dim, but hanging out with Noah brings some back into clarity. When you're seven, you are in the first grade learning to read. He reads us picture books. And he recognizes words on signs that he could not cipher a year ago. And he's proud. He can do it. This week, too, I heard him say how much stronger he is -- now -- than when he was six. His universe is expanding and he is transforming with it.

I suppose this post is really about empowerment. How does an adult nurture natural confidence in a child? That surely was Carson's hope not only for her grand nephew Roger, but for all children when she spoke of the "good fairy" blessing them with "a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout a life." She wished for all children a deep sense of richness in the truth and beauty of Nature that could become the "unfailing antidote to boredom and disenchantments of later years." When time hands a child -- or grown-up child -- a divorce, or job loss, or death of a loved one, it was Carson's hope that Nature could provide a sense of comfort and connectedness that was genuine and grounded in the communal human experience.

So, how do we empower kids in a dangerous world? We'd love to hear your stories.

Oh. And BTW, Noah swung a fine ax at our little Wild Grace II homestead. He added a couple of pieces to the pile. And he didn't get hurt. He didn't even seem very tuckered out. That's more than I can say for grandpa.

Tom Schaefer

November Reading Schedule

The Sea Around Us Field Notes Blog continues through December

November 11, 2007

That special gift

If the moon is full...then the way is open for another adventure with your child.... The sport of watching migrating birds pass across the face of the moon has become popular and even scientifically important in recent years, and it is as good a way as I know to give an older child a sense of the mystery of migration. - Rachel Carson in The Sense of Wonder

I have two copies of The Sense of Wonder. One I bought some years ago for my personal collection while the second, the older of the two but newer on my bookshelf, was gifted to me by a friend. A naturalist and infamous collector, he makes it a point to seek out and buy every copy he can find of the older 1965 edition for one key reason: it has more pictures of kids.

And it's true. The 1998 edition, photographed by Nick Kelsh and pictured on this page, is a lovely little coffee table book with images of winter woods, leaves in full fall color, a close-up of rounded surf-washed stones, and a shot or two of an evening pond one could imagine swept by the same broom Emily Dickinson wrote of. But not many kids. To be honest, maybe this is the edition Rachel would have preferred. Linda Lear, in her introduction in this edition, cites a friend quoting Carson saying, "We plan for it to be rather lavishly illustrated with the most beautiful photographs we can find...."

I assume you know by now that neither of these editions of The Sense of Wonder were published during Carson's lifetime. The earliest version came out in the July 1956 Woman's Home Companion under the title "Help Your Child to Wonder." Lear relates that Carson wanted to improve the essay into an illustrated book, but after Silent Spring hit bookstores and subsequently the desks of chemical industry management, the last years of her life were spent defending her criticism of the use of "miracle" pesticides and herbicides on crops, roadsides, and the critters that live therein.

The first more kid friendly edition, photographed by Charles Pratt and others, was released in 1965, just one year after Carson's death. It, too, is "lavishly illustrated" with enchanting seasonal photography, but it seems to go beyond the picturesque to include a bare-chested boy peeking through the limbs of a Maine spruce, a couple of school girls messing around in the rain, and even the backside of a naked little kid toddling on a beach, hand safely held by an adult. Cute kids. In a book about kids.

Perhaps this post is really about the power and impacts of a thoughtful gift. I know I value my gifted copy of The Sense of Wonder more than the newer edition. It's special. And I realized today that I'll need two more copies of The Sense of Wonder for holiday giving this year: one for each of my grown daughters' families. With their busy lives of karate practice, homework, and school fund raisers, I want to be sure they hear the thoughts of an important American woman who encouraged moms, dads, and grandparents to be more zen while out in the natural world with kids, slowing down their own lives to experience the wonder of the natural world through the mindfulness of a child's microcosm.
How about "natural" holiday gifts for kids? I know the ten-year old grandson is getting a decent pair of binoculars and a birding field guide. Maybe we'll even set up camp and watch the full moon during migration.

Any thoughts on or stories about great gifts? Anything you know that might invite a child to investigate the innards of a walnut shell, hunt for fossils, or wonder at the fragile strength of a Daddy Long Legs? Do tell! ;-)

November 1, 2007

Opening Remarks by Moderator Tom Schaefer

For the Kids

If a child is to keep alive his sense of wonder…he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” - from Rachel Carson’s The Sense of Wonder

I suppose the thing that I'm most proud of these days is being a grandfather. You can count on my pulling out pictures of the three grandkids if you were to ask about them, to be sure, but what I'm most interested in is taking them outside and showing them 'cool stuff.' Here in Ohio this time of year, that discovery takes place on a walk in the woods to look at color and to pick up leaves with interesting stories to tell. It also might include watching birds at the birdbath and listening to birdsong from the trees, trying to figure out just who it was who had something to say this late in the season. And this weekend it's off with the two grandboys to the local nature center to pick up birdseed for winter feeding. I'm just sure if we caught up with Rachel Carson on one of our outings, she'd give an approving smile and a wink.

When Rachel Carson comes to mind, I first think of her as a scientist. My initial exposure to her writing came in the late 1960s in a college biology class when we were assigned to read the newly published Silent Spring. Chilling it was. And a tough read for my science-resistant mind. Still, the book made an impact on me and was one of the factors, I'm sure, that has lead me to be a part-time activist for the Earth.

About that same time, Apollo 8 became the first manned space flight to the moon. I know I've read somewhere that the first picture of Earthrise taken from lunar orbit and beamed back home during that Christmas 1968 journey played an important role in helping those of us back home realize just how fragile Earth looks from even the short distance to the moon. I'm guessing many of you reading this can still visualize that photograph without resorting to a web search. And then, of course, came the first Earth Day just one and one half years later in 1970. It doesn't take an historian to tell us that both the Apollo program and Carson's Silent Spring, among other factors, had touched enough social nerves that brought many to take action to reverse the impact of development to flora and fauna alike on our island home -- our blue marble -- in space.

As a scientist, Rachel Carson has taught us that the health and viability of terrestrial ecosystems are things we need to care about. As an elective parent, she also taught us that sharing the simple and dynamic beauty of this planet with the next generation was also our responsibility. For her, it was a labor of love. As it is for Grandpa Tom. I hope it is -- or will be -- with you, too.

Care to post a story about sharing nature with a child? How about an idea on making a difference with kids in the natural world. We'd love to hear.

Tom Schaefer

November Reading Schedule

The Sea Around Us Field Notes Blog continues through December

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