The story behind the story of science writer Rachel Carson’s life

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“Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” 

— Rachel Carson 

Sometimes, the stories behind the public stories shared are too interesting to be left untold. A marine biologist who studied the sea, Rachel Carson is known for her writing, but she should also be remembered as having lived an extraordinary life. 

Born on a farm in 1907 north of Pittsburgh, she developed a love of the great outdoors at a time when most girls were not exactly encouraged to do so. She most definitely blazed her own trail.

“One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, ‘what if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?'” Carson once said. 

Background

A born ecologist before that particular science had even been clearly defined, Carson became arguably the finest science writer of her time. She had become a published author by 10, writing for various children’s magazines. She earned degrees at what is now Chatham University and Johns Hopkins University. 

Strained family finances took her back home, short of pursuing her doctorate, in order to care for her mother and orphaned nieces, one of whom would die at 31, prompting Carson to adopt her young son. 

After outscoring all other applicants on her civil service exam in 1936, Carson became a scientist working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington, D.C. at a time few women had broken that glass ceiling in any field. 

I am drawn to Carson’s writing, the power of which lies in her ability to connect with what nature brings to our lives. It is even more laudable that she accomplished this vision far ahead of her time. 

Pesticides

During her early career, Carson became concerned with the number of wildlife deaths that were traced to synthetic pesticides. 

“Silent Spring” refers to the spring area of Duxbury, Massachusetts that went silent due to the very high number of deaths of bird life after heavy aerial pesticide spraying. Though she never sought the ban of all pesticides, she did campaign through her government position for the end of DDT spraying from the air. 

She felt the use of this synthetic pesticide was excessive and lacked control in its coverage, causing death and destruction of marine and forest life in broad sweeps while also causing serious health implications for mankind. 

Bestseller

“The Sea Around Us” was published in 1951 and secured her place in literature for all time. It landed on the New York Times bestseller list and remained there for 80 weeks. Considering that this came well before many were aware of environmental impacts, Carson’s success is an incredible feat. 

With this accomplishment, she left her governmental career and became a full-time writer. 

Continuing writing

Carson was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 50s but continued her work and her writing through significant illness and pain. 

She died in 1964, at 57, in her Maryland home, two years after the publication of her bestselling book, “Silent Spring.” She was posthumously awarded the presidential medal of freedom in 1980. 

“Those who dwell among the beauties and the mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life,” Carson once said. 

I have thought many times how much more peaceful our world would be if the majority of the population had the opportunity to live life in this way, feet in the soil, hands touching the gifts of the earth.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.

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