August 13, 2012

Three stories: Carson's words inspired environmental activism

Second in an occasional series on Rachel Carson a half-century after the publication of 'Silent Spring.'

By North Cairn
Staff Writer

Next, a look at the chemicals under the sink, on the lawn and garden, in the air or water: How far have we come since Carson sounded the alarm about pesticides?

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Patty Bailey, a retired interpretive nature educator, created guided walks, inspired by some of Rachel Carson’s writings, at Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park in Freeport. Here, she studies the rocky shoreline while planning a walk designed to encourage children to appreciate the diverse life of the tidal zone at the edge of the sea.

Courtesy Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park

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Deborah Aldridge and her family were vacationing at Mopang Lake nearly 50 years ago when DDT sprayed over the forest to fight spruce budworm inadvertently killed untold numbers of small songbirds, including many chickadees and sparrows. The sight of the dead birds on the forest floor, combined with what Aldrich had read about pesticide use in “Silent Spring,” led her to become an organic farmer and environmental advocate. The bird populations around the lake did not recover fully, Aldrich says, until five years ago.

Courtesy photo

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Wolfe’s Neck Woods State Park in Freeport is offering nature programs daily at 2 p.m. through Labor Day, weather permitting.

The programs, some of which were inspired by Rachel Carson’s writings, include walks, talks and activities in the natural setting of the park and are free with park admission. No reservations are needed, except for large groups. Programs last about one hour and are suitable for children and adults. Almost all are wheelchair accessible.

Most programs start at the circle of benches at the end of the park’s second parking lot. For more information, call 865-4465.

This week:

Monday, Casco Bay Walk – Enjoy views of rocky shores, nesting ospreys and islands in the bay on this one-mile hike.

Tuesday, Osprey Watch

Wednesday, Stroll with the Ranger

Thursday, Drawing From Nature – Use drawing and art as a way to get up close and personal with the wildlife in the park. Drawing materials will be provided, visitors are invited to bring their own, if they prefer.

Friday, Stories in Stone – Get to know the story of Maine’s rockbound coast on this walk with talks and activities.

Saturday, Wild Relatives

Aug. 19, Osprey Walk

Aug. 20, Tree Hunt

Aug. 21, Osprey Watch

Aug. 22, Hike with the Ranger

Aug. 23, Who Lived Here Before Us?

Aug. 24, Small Wonders

Aug. 25, Osprey Watch

Aug. 26, Tide Pools - Visit this informal program on the rocky shore near Googins Island to discover the secrets of a tide pool.

Aug. 27, Secrets of the Shore – Discover the secrets of life in the salt marsh, mud flat, and rocky shore in this one-hour tour.

Aug. 28, Osprey Watch

Aug. 29, Casco Bay Walk

Aug. 30, Forest and Shore Tour – Get to know the things that live in the park’s forest and on its shores on this eye-opening tour.

Aug. 31, Drawing From Nature

For those who read Rachel Carson's 1962 bestseller, "Silent Spring," its impact often is not an abstract concept.

It's personal.


'The forest was blanketed with dead birds.’

"ABSOLUTELY, I read 'Silent Spring' when I was in my mid-teens, maybe 14 or 15," recalled Deborah Aldridge of Mopang Lake, whose life was changed forever -- not by Carson's book alone but in connection with an experience some months later.

Her family -- the Peaveys, longtime residents of the Mopang area -- had a camp on land leased from a paper company. Located just off Route 9 in Township 29, it was a pristine place that Aldridge remembers with fondness.

Less than a year after she read "Silent Spring," Aldridge, not yet 16 years old, took a walk one afternoon with her family through part of the thousands of acres of forests owned by the paper company. Not far from the Peaveys' camp, aerial spraying with DDT had been done to combat spruce budworm, and as she and her family ambled through the woods, they noticed something unusual.

"The forest was blanketed with dead birds," she said.

Gone were the woods brimming with the sights, sounds and fragrances they ordinarily enjoyed on family outings. "There was such a difference," she said. "The forest was deathly quiet."

Seeing firsthand what pesticides could do to creatures not intended to be hurt or killed marked a "turning point" for Aldridge, who was "horrified," she said, by what she witnessed. "And that's even a mild way of saying how I felt."

Between the shock of seeing so many small songbirds -- chickadees and sparrows mostly, she recalled -- and what she already knew from reading Carson's book, Aldridge felt a deep shift within her, like continental plates colliding.

"It was beyond belief," she said, now nearly 50 years later. "It had a huge impact. It made me aware of the world ... and that we are all caretakers."

The incident catalyzed her thinking in unexpected ways, shaping her ideas about "how I was going to treat the Earth and my little corner of it."

Years later, after Aldridge married, she and her husband, Peter, began farming organically. The couple cultivated blueberries on a 20-acre parcel of the 200 acres they owned in Jonesboro.

Growing food organically, she said, healed some of the distress she had felt so many years before. "The change was just so incredible," she said. "Caterpillars and butterflies no longer emerged deformed."

And the farm did not suffer for the elimination of pesticides; it was still producing 30,000-40,000 pounds of blueberries a year.

And there was another deep change. Aldridge and her husband became advocates for organic farming and the elimination of deadly pesticides. She became politically active as an organic grower in the region and tried to work from within the system to reduce the dependence on chemical pesticides in farming and forestry.

"A person feels so helpless when the people in power have all the power and it seems there is nothing you can do," she said. But through the way of life and work that she and Peter chose for themselves -- and the message they carried to others -- they felt they had accomplished something.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Rachel Carson poses at her typewriter in her Washington, D.C., home in 1963. Her book “Silent Spring” inspired many readers to pursue environmental activism.

1963 Associated Press file photo


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