Rachel Carson~

If the world ever needed a Rachel Carson, it is now. Why do I say that? Because Rachel Carson witnessed environmental degradation in her lifetime and took action at great risk to herself, both professionally and personally.

Rachel Carson is my next Rhetorica Heroica!  

Rachel Carson (1907-1964) was an American marine biologist, ecologist, and nature writer. After 15 years working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Carson retired to devote more time to her writing.

What twists and turns in life took this little nature-loving girl from Pennsylvania to wage one of the nation’s fiercest battles? Carson endured harsh criticisms, not only for being a whistle-blower, but for daring to engage in the male-dominated world of the scientist in the 1950s and 60s. She was trained as a scientist, yes, but what really kept her on task were the ingrained values of Courage, Determination, and the firm grasp of Certainty!

Carson wrote stories from a very young age, first to acquaint readers with the wonder of the oceans and rivers, and then as a conscientious scholar when she wrote her magnum opus, Silent Spring (1962), which shook the nation with its strong environmental message.

The use of DDT, the savior of the agricultural science business, was killing everything in its path, all life, including humans. Her awakening came when she realized the waters near her home, once alive with chirps and squawks of birds, was now silent. She searched until she found the source of such silence. What she found traced back to chemicals in the air and water. Carson’s cry was “what kills the birds will kill us” and she was right. As a scientist she knew how to back up her claims-with empirical data.

Carson’s book warned humankind of the destructive path they were on in their use of pesticides and insecticides in agriculture, like DDT. DDT, (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), according to U.S. Geological Survey, is an “insecticide highly toxic to biota, including humans…a persistent biochemical which accumulates in the food chain.” Imagine airplanes circling your neighborhood and outlying countryside spraying DDT down in a fine mist, covering everything. Soon birds are quivering, shaking uncontrollably, then falling from the sky. People are eating local foods, drinking the water, and getting sick and dying from strange cancers. Think of a myriad of respiratory illnesses plaguing young and old….all the while chemical companies denying any connection of sufferings to their products.

And what about now? Almost 50 years since Carson wrote Silent Spring, the earth is ailing, in need of aid more than ever, inhabited by threatened species, including humans.  It seems incomprehensible to think we will survive at the current rate of annihilation and apathy regarding our planet  that has seized the earth’s human inhabitants. We humans have certainly had our harbingers, our oracles, our soothsayers, who have heralded, and warned us…and these warnings only cause a pause in the march of “progress.” Where is our Rachel Carson? Muzzled by government, lobbyists and big money?

Rachel Carson was one who tried to halt the destruction against all odds, in the face of ridicule and opposition. She risked humiliation from the highest levels of national government. She dared to play hard ball with the Big Boys, and she won. The chemical companies retreated after her ally, President John F. Kennedy, took notice, read Silent Spring, and launched a full-scale congressional investigation. Soon Carson was called to testify against the chemical companies.  All told, “the President’s Science Advisory Committee issued a report in 1963 largely backing Carson’s scientific claims. By 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established as a cabinet-level position and, in 1972, DDT use was banned…the publication of [Silent Spring] is credited as one of the most influential events in sparking the environmental movement” (see fws.gov below).

Below is an excerpt from Silent Spring, Chapter 12, “The Human Price”:

As the tide of chemicals born of the Industrial Age has arisen to engulf our environment, a drastic change has come about in nature of the most serious public health problems. Only yesterday mankind lived in fear of the scourges of smallpox, cholera, and plague that once swept  nations before them. Now our major concern is no longer with the disease organisms that once were omnipresent…Today we are concerned with a different kind of hazard that lurks in our environment–a hazard we ourselves have  introduced into our world as our modern way of life has evolved. (187)

In tragic irony, while Rachel Carson was battling for the environment’s health, her own health was in decline as she fought the losing battle with cancer (no implication of DDT poisoning), succumbing in 1964, less than a year after the congressional hearings. Rachel Carson, true Rhetorica Heroica, in the face of her own mortality, fought for change through her writings.

For more detailed information on this courageous woman rhetor, please access the following links:

Rachel Carson: rachelcarson.org

Information on DDT: http://toxics.usgs.gov/definitions/ddt.html

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:  http://www.fws.gov/northeast/rachelcarson/carsonbio.html


Marjory Stoneman Douglas~ Feisty Fighter for the Glades

Marjory Stoneman Douglas, writer and advocate, lived to be 108 years of age (1890-1998). Throughout Douglas’ life, she fought for the rights of others. Suffragist, anti-prohibitionist, supporter of the ERA and civil rights, she wrote passionately in the roles of private citizen, as reporter, columnist, and assistant editor for the Miami Herald. In her mid-50s, and on until her death, she took up the cause of preserving the Everglades of South Florida.

Douglas was a skilled, seasoned watchdog picking another fight for the environment-against the odds, in the face of harsh criticism from peers, society and the powers that be.

In 1947, at the age of 57, Douglas published what would become a  “must read” for anyone fighting to save the environment from the developers, from greedy big business, you know, the usual suspects in the destruction of the natural world. The book is titled The Everglades, A River of Grass. So lyrical, so poetic is the language, so persuasive is its appeal, you forget you are reading an environmental protest. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, you are my hero.

Douglas opens her book with immediacy of place:

“There are no other Everglades in the world.

They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth, remote, never wholly known. Nothing anywhere else is like them: their vast glittering openness, wider than the enormous visible round of the horizon, the racing free salt-ness and sweetness of their massive winds, under the dazzling blue heights of space. They are unique also in simplicity, the diversity, the related harmony of the forms of life they enclose. The miracle of the light pours over the green and brown expanse of saw grass and of water, shining and slow-moving below, the grass and water that is the meaning and the central fact of the Everglades of Florida. It is a river of grass.” (6-7)

She wrote, she protested, she lambasted developers, bombarded government officials (including several U.S. Presidents), pushed back in defense of nature, and stressed the intrinsic value of the ecosystem.  It was an all-out assault against those who set their destructive sights on the Everglades, her beloved river of grass. And her voice was heard. In the latter part of her life President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her environmental work in the Everglades, even as she attacked his administration for being too soft on industry in the area.  She was tough on the Army Corps of Engineers too. She spoke her mind, and had the expertise to back it up.

In spite of her valiant battle, sadly, the Everglades is still at risk today. Species are endangered and falling into extinction. Developers, after a brief pause, took a deep breath and continued on their destructive path.

When I visit the Everglades I thank Marjory Stoneman Douglas for her persistence, her staunch devotion, her unyielding defense of this elegant, vibrant, expanse known to us Floridians as “the Glades.” Even now as I sit in my Colorado home I remember the Glades and I relive the beauty, peacefulness, and sheer vastness of the place. I hear the birds and the rustle of the wind through the grasses, I see the lush green mangroves. I imagine the river as it flows ever slowly towards the ocean so close by I can smell it.  The Glades are alive, but for how long? More research is indicated here, but for now I leave with an awareness of fights to come in honor of this cherished river of grass.

Douglas is an inspiration to me and what is looking like my own lifework of writing for nature; animals, landscape, seascape, in whatever manner, to whatever eventuality. Writing takes us where it wants us to go, I always say.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ writing was clear, unfiltered, and bold. Her purpose defined. She was a true Rhetorica Heroica!

…for my research

Here are some writers I am considering next.

~ Kelly Cherry, poet laureate of Virginia, 2010-2011.


~Rachel Carson


~Marjory Stoneman Douglas