Pathways SU24 Digital Magazine


Time for Rachel Carson (Part One)


Rachel Carson passed away 60 years ago this past April, but we are not finished learning from her work and her example. In Silver Spring, Maryland, we are working to create Springsong Museum , a place of joy, solace, and connection that brings her words and wonder to gen- erations new and old. Development of this project is still ongoing, so beginning with this first of four installments, it seems fitting, while we wait, to share some of Carson’s writings and philosophy with the read- ers of Pathways, with some of her writings related to time. When I was a child, summers brought something of an existential reckoning. Spending at least some time at the beach every summer, the excitement would give way to indescribable pangs of nostalgia the moment I would put my feet in the water and look out at the vast ocean. The chill of the wind and water would hit and retreat, and I’d drift from disbelief to an unsteady acceptance that another year had gone by, we were all another year older, and no matter how intensely I wished it, there was nothing that could be done to alter time’s constant passing. Summer after summer, time at the beach began with an au- dience with that indifferent power, consistently telling the same truth. Many years later, some of that truth found company in the scores- old writings of Rachel Carson: To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thou- sands of years, to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be. ( Under the Sea- Wind , 1941) Rachel Carson, whom many credit with sparking the modern en- vironmental movement through her writing and defense of Silent Spring, built a career on her ability to communicate the wonders and realities of the sea, enamoring a wide audience with both her style and substance. While living in the Woodmoor neighborhood of Silver Spring in the early 1950s, Carson had not one but two books about the creatures and features of the ocean on The New York Times bestseller list. Under the Sea-Wind and The Sea Around Us provided readers in-depth scientific information, but were just as importantly contex - tualizing it with deep themes of life on earth: of connection; enduring cycles, patterns, and change; and, dependably, the factor of time. For Carson, and for many of us, the sea and time are inseparable. Summer affords us a season in which we can most easily appreciate both. Revisiting Carson’s writings, we can experience visits to the beach, that perpetually liminal space, less for its cold realities and more for its true wonders: For the differences I sense in this particular instant of time that is mine are but the difference of a moment, determined by our place in the stream of time and in the long rhythms of the sea. Once this rocky coast beneath me was a plain of sand; then the sea rose and found a new shore line. And again in some shadowy future the surf will have found these rocks to sand and will have returned the coast to its earlier state. And so in my mind’s eye these coastal forms merge and blend in a shifting, kaleidoscopic pattern in which there is no finality, no ultimate and fixed reality — earth becoming fluid as the sea itself.

Copyright: ©Erich Hartmann / Magnum Photos

On all these shores there are echoes of past and future: of the flow of time, obliterating yet containing all that has gone before; of the sea’s eternal rhythms — the tides, the beat of surf, the pressing rivers of the currents — shaping, chang- ing, dominating; of the stream of life, flowing as inexorably as any ocean current, from past to unknown future. (“The Enduring Sea,” The Edge of the Sea , 1955) Even in her most well-known book Silent Spring , written in Silver Spring near the end of her life, Carson explains threats to our natu- ral environment — and of course, to ourselves — by returning to the theme of time. As was the case throughout her career, she sought to make complex subjects understandable to the public by clearly, yet beautifully, distilling the essential elements of the relationship be- tween living things and their environment and time: The rapidity of change and the speed with which new situ- ations are created follow the impetuous and headless pace of man rather than the deliberate pace of nature. Radiation is no longer merely the background radiation of rocks, the bombardment of cosmic rays, the ultraviolet of the sun that have existed before there was any life on earth; radiation is now the unnatural creation of man’s tampering with the atom. The chemicals to which life is asked to make its adjust- ment are no longer merely the calcium and silica and copper and all the rest of the minerals washed out of the rocks and carried in rivers to the sea; they are the synthetic creations of man’s inventive mind, brewed in his laboratories and having no counterparts in nature. To adjust to these chemicals would require time on the scale that is nature’s; it would require not merely the years of a man’s life but the life of generations. (“The Obligation to Endure,” Silent Spring , 1962) As Rachel Carson’s own time was coming to an end, she wrote her beloved friend a letter that could be considered an acknowledgement and perhaps acceptance of what was to come:

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PATHWAYS—Summer 24—13

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