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

(Continued from page 1)

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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

"It was," Aldridge said, "the best we could do.

"We encouraged conventional people to keep their minds open" about the benefits of organic farming. "What I'm doing and what impact I'm having, how I'm changing the landscape, and me, for good or for ill -- that came from Rachel Carson, I think."

"It's a much different mindset when you stop being an owner of property and become instead a caretaker," Aldridge said. And though "nothing can undo" what she observed that day so long ago in the woods with her family, the spark of consciousness that was fanned to a lasting fire in her remains profound and energizing.

Other changes -- or restorations -- have taken longer.

"It's only been in the last five years," Aldridge said, "that I've noticed the birds have come back."


'The things that she wrote rang true; they echoed in me.'

"RACHEL CARSON was ahead of her time," said Patty Bailey of Gouldsboro, who served for most of her career in the Maine Department of Conservation as a nature educator. "The things that she wrote rang true; they echoed in me -- the beauty of her writing, her way of engaging people and keeping them engaged. I always felt bad that she didn't get the recognition and support she deserved."

From Carson's words in "Silent Spring" and, even more so, in "A Sense of Wonder," Bailey was inspired by a single idea that ran like a tributary through her life and work: "First and foremost, to know that we are all connected and that everything we do has an impact."

"The things we think and feel make a difference, too," said Bailey, now retired. Helping to mold ideas and raise consciousness -- especially among children -- became for her a driving force, compelling further study, leading to public service in the state parks system and spurring her to create an informal nature-education curriculum.

A series of her guided walks for young people bears names that are titles of books by Carson or resound with her ideas: The Edge of the Sea, for example, or Secrets of the Shore.

For nearly 20 years, Bailey communicated those lessons and values through her work as an interpretive guide at Wolfe's Neck Woods State Park in Freeport. There she was able to hold on to -- and share with others -- a love of nature she attributes to time spent as a child with her father, canoeing through a bog in the evening to check for ducks.

She remains deeply influenced by Carson's last book, "A Sense of Wonder," which was published posthumously but remains one of the author's signature works. In it, Carson displays a different voice than the one that carries "Silent Spring."

In that later, shorter text, the language of the reformer settles to a nearly maternal, comforting whisper.

Carson aimed her gentle persuasion at parents looking for ways to help their children appreciate the natural world and retain the sense of awe and wonder that, she felt, is so often lost or discarded in adulthood.

And though Bailey has changed in focus in retirement, now devoting herself to practicing methods of alternative healing, the walks she designed are still offered every week at Wolfe's Neck.

And though the children who visit the park now and learn about the forest and shore might not know it yet, they are part of a whole new generation who are being transformed. Scientists say these young people already bear at a cellular level the imprint of persistent pesticides, but they are being changed by something else as well, the lasting legacy of Rachel Carson.

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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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