Rachel Carson’s Birthday

Take some time this weekend to imagine that all the birds are gone. There are no robins, jays, gulls, chickadees. No swallows swooping or geese honking. No wild parrots like the ones that haunt our playground. Maybe not even any pigeons strutting — aren’t they cute this time of year? (Even pests fall in love.)

Sunday is the 100th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s birth. In Silent Spring, she wrote about the loss of hundreds of thousands of songbirds to pesticides — a loss made all the worse because the pesticides weren’t actually stopping the pests all that well. I’m no hero-worshipper, but Carson has always been a hero to me, and even more so now that I’m a parent.

You see, I want Boobaby to be just like Rachel Carson.

  • I want her to have a rough-and-tumble childhood with ample time outdoors. Rachel Carson grew up around woods and ponds in New England.
  • I want her to love words. Rachel Carson learned to love nature through reading, and then wrote about the environment with such gripping prose
  • I want her to help to protect the outdoors. Rachel Carson threw a spotlight on the problem of pesticide bioaccumulation, and according to many, spawned the modern environmental movement.
  • I want her to feel strongly about family. Rachel Carson quit school to support her family when her father died.
  • I want her to strive to break down walls. Rachel Carson worked in the government’s science bureaucracy at a time when few female scientists had penetrated that sanctum.
  • I want her to know that every problem hides a gift. Rachel Carson’s career path was leading her to a doctorate and a professorship. When her father died, she quit her doctoral studies and got a job writing informational pamphlets for the government. Those pamphlets led directly to Carson’s books The Silent Spring and The Sea Around Us; a Professor Carson might have had vastly less influence than she had.
  • I want her to speak her truth, no matter what other people say. At the time she was writing, Carson was roundly attacked by the chemical industry and even the government. Her vision — beyond her time — was of sustainable agriculture that takes into account the entire ecosystem; a harvest, moreover, that would become more economical in the long run than any that relied on short-term gain from overuse of pesticides.

So take a minute this weekend to enjoy the outdoors. Wildlife and human life alike, we’re still under assault from poorly-thought out chemicals all around us — plenty of work left to do — but thanks to a brave woman born this day, we have a little longer to get our act together and clean up what’s left.