Rachel Carson’s Wonder

On this day in 1907 Rachel Carson was born in Springdale, Pennsylvania. Her homestead is now a museum and educational center, though it includes only one of the sixty-five acres upon which Carson grew up and learned the life-lesson that she would teach the world: “The lasting pleasures of contact with the natural world are not reserved for scientists but are available to anyone who will place himself under the influence of earth, sea, and sky, and their amazing life.” (The Sense of Wonder)

It was Carson’s mother who taught both the wonder and the sense, by not only taking her children on daily nature hikes but by not allowing them to collect or disrupt the natural treasures they would find, nor to become jaded to their splendor. Beyond her forewarnings in Silent Spring, Carson’s legacy is this urging of daily awe:

We lay and looked up at the sky and the millions of stars that blazed in darkness. The night was so still that we could hear the buoy on the ledges out beyond the mouth of the bay. Once or twice a word spoken by someone on the far shore was carried across the clear air. A few lights burned in the cottages. Otherwise, there was no reminder of other human life…. It occurred to me that if this were a sight that could be seen only once in a century or even once in a human generation, this little headland would be thronged with spectators. But it can be seen many scores of nights in any year, and so the lights burned in the cottages and the inhabitants probably gave not a thought to the beauty overhead; and because they could see it almost any night perhaps they will never see it. (The Sense of Wonder)

Though too poor to have indoor plumbing, Carson’s mother subscribed to the children’s magazine, St. Nicholas, whose mission included the “protection of the oppressed, whether human or dumb creatures.” Like other later-famous writers — William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, E. B. White, Eudora Welty, and many more — Carson published stories in St. Nicholas while still a pre-teen, becoming committed to writing as well as nature.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.