“There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to be in harmony with its surroundings. The town lay in the midst of a checkerboard of prosperous farms, with fields of grain and hillsides of orchards, where white clouds of bloom drifted above the green land. In autumn, oak and maple and birch set up a blaze of color that flamed and flickered across a backdrop of pines.”
These are the opening lines of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. A book often credited with starting the modern environmental movement, as it called into question not just the unchecked mass use of pesticides but man’s increasingly fractured relationship to nature.
Upon publication over 50 years ago, it sparked a public uprising, a well-orchestrated industry response replete with “alternative facts”, congressional hearings and eventually regulations that not only curbed the use of pesticides, but also laid the framework for all the environmental battles and progress that would follow.
Before Silent Spring, Carson was already a best selling author whose simple and beautiful prose created a sense of wonder about nature – specifically the ocean. Much like the opening lines of Silent Spring, she painted pictures of a world in which we wanted to live in harmony with all that was around us – thinking that we would protect that which we appreciated, understood and loved.
She chose her words carefully and while her message was alarming – she was by no means an alarmist. In fact, the passion and anger that burned deep within her was channeled into a warm illuminating light that added credibility and converts.
In her lifetime, her march was a slow and sometimes lonely one. Her legacy is the millions who have since picked up her baton.
The lessons of Carson’s life were unknown to me until I stumbled upon a PBS documentary last week.
Just days later, I found myself in my daughter’s classroom dissecting an owl’s pellet – essentially a giant fur ball they regurgitate after eating their prey.
We all went into this exercise with trepidation, children saying, “This is gross”, we parents thinking the exact same thing.
But as I watched these 9 year-olds delicately extract the bones from matted fur and proudly catalogue their discoveries, it was hard not to notice the look of awe and wonder in their faces and the unbridled amazement in their voices.
This was education – a moment that connects them to the world around them. Perhaps for one or two, this would be their first step in a long march. One that started with fear and unease, but now grows with respect and love.
We are all marching in our own way. Every step measured by what we buy, how we spend our time, or how we talk to each other. Is this march for something or against someone? Are we burning things down or shining light for others to see? And will our children or those that follow pick up our baton because we have marched well?