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 2)

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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


'She knew how to translate other people's work for lay people ...'

FOR BARBARA VICKERY, recalling the 1962 publication of "Silent Spring" represents more than memory; it is a symbol of awakening.

The image is this: Her mother and aunts are clustered around the kitchen table, discussing Carson's best-selling book on the environmental impact of indiscriminate use of pesticides. All four women had grown up on a farm and had been exposed to DDT, the chemical agent Carson so soundly criticized in her groundbreaking book.

That evening the women sat together, quietly reviewing what they had learned from "Silent Spring." One of her aunts was ill, and there was talk about whether her illness might be linked to the poisons that had been used on the farm decades before. Another, whom Vickery remembers as "an avid bird lover," was worrying over what harm might have been done to songbirds in the fields.

Vickery, then a young girl, lingered on the margins of the conversation, listening.

"There was that sense of sitting around the kitchen table," she recalled. And "a horrible sense of misgiving and regret" that the family might have unwittingly engaged in farming practices that had been damaging -- even to themselves. The moment was permeated with the dread that they might have "in ignorance, participated in things that were just plain wrong."

"That made a profound effect on me," she said. "It was a very personal sense of awakening."

A call to action is how Carson herself might have described the book, though alerting and educating the public to the issues surrounding pesticide use were essential first steps.

"Silent Spring" achieved that. So persuasive and compelling was her presentation of what had previously been only piecemeal information and scattered details on the adverse effects of pesticides that, when the book was published, Carson become at once the foremost expert and most vilified advocate on the subject in the world.

Part of the power of the book was the potency of the writing. "She understood how to do good research," said Vickery, now director of conservation programs for the Maine chapter of The Nature Conservancy, for which she has worked for 28 years. "She knew how to translate other people's work for lay people translate it into what people should do and what people should care about.

"One of the ways she influenced me was that she opened my eyes to other ways of being," Vickery said. Carson and her book enlarged the sense of what was possible for individuals to become and to accomplish.

Carson, who to this day is described both as scientist and non-scientist -- depending on who is assessing her credentials at any given moment -- held an undergraduate degree in biology and a master's degree from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

She also studied at the Marine Biological Lab in Woods Hole, Mass., and through her own writings became conversant with much of the then-current research in marine biology, ornithology, entomology, botany, biochemistry, oceanography and wildlife management.

And she influenced generations of women, pioneering their credible participation in arenas before reserved almost exclusively for men. By example, she encouraged women to strive for more from and for themselves, to work harder and to stand up for themselves and their convictions.

"I didn't lack for (role) models," said Vickery, whose father was a physicist and mother a social scientist. She herself was enamored of Marie Curie as the classic woman scientist.

(Continued on page 4)

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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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