Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Legacy of Silent Spring.

Carson did not want to write Silent Spring. True, she was painfully aware of the indiscriminate use of pesticides, and had proposed articles on the problem to the magazines that she was writing for, as far back as the late 1940s, but Silent Spring was in many ways not her kind of project. In her great sea trilogy, Under the Sea Wind, The Sea Around Us and The Edge of the Sea, a singular voice emerges, at once rigorous and lyrical, a voice she had come to know as her own. It was not, in so many ways, the right voice for a "crusading" book on DDT.

By 1957, however, the pesticide problem was totally out of hand, and as an attempt to prevent an infestation of gypsy moths in the city of New York clearly demonstrated, "The gypsy moth," Carson wrote,

"is a forest insect, certainly not an inhabitant of cities. Nor does it live in meadows, cultivated fields, gardens or marshes. Nevertheless, the planes hired by the United States Department of Agriculture and the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets showered down the prescribed DDT-in-fuel-oil with impartiality. They sprayed gardens and dairy farms, fishponds and salt marshes. They sprayed the quarter-acre lots of suburbia, drenching a housewife making a desperate effort to cover her garden before the roaring plane reached her, and showered insecticide over children at play and commuters at railway stations. At Setauket a fine quarter horse drank from a trough in a field which the planes had sprayed: ten hours later it was dead."

This was probably the single event that most influenced Carson to embark properly on Silent Spring. "There would be no peace for me," she said, "if I kept silent."
In raising her voice, Rachel Carson was able to give voice to the Spring, as well. May we continue to keep her legacy alive (so we can keep our planet alive).


Donna said...

I was born in 1962 when this book was published. I grew up thinking how great it was that we were making progress with environmental issues, that women were becoming equal to men in our society, that the civil rights movement had put a stop to discrimination, and so many other things.

I can't tell you how sad I am to see so many of the things that I celebrated as a child and young adult falling apart under the watch of the neocons and the religious right. I feel betrayed by my own country and so far, even with volunteer work and political activism, I'm sorry to say that I don't feel any real hope. I just keep acting and speaking out as much as I can to keep myself from falling into depression.

gayle said...

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Donna--I appreciate your honesty tremendously. I share your sadness over the current erosion of all the progress--social and environmental--that our country has achieved over the last few decades. It is deeply heart-breaking, and, yes, so depressing. I go through moments where hope feels impossible, too. But the hope always seems to spring back. I see the neocons imploding, and it gives me hope. I see hundreds of thousands of people marching together for peace, and it gives me hope. I totally understand why you feel hopeless, but I hope you know that the work you do, and the work other activists do, is a sustaining source of hope for me (and, I'm sure, for many others) even in the bleakest times.