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Rachel Carson Excerpts Continued


 From "The Sense of Wonder," 1965 (Posthumously);

A rainy day is the perfect time for a walk in the woods. I always thought so myself; the Maine woods never seem so fresh and alive as in wet weather. Then all the needles on the evergreens wear a sheath of silver; ferns seem to have grown to almost tropical lushness and every leaf has its edging of crystal drops. Strangely colored fungi — mustard-yellow and apricot and scarlet — are pushing out of the leaf mold and all the lichens and the mosses have come alive with green and silver freshness.  


 From "Under the Sea-Wind," 1941  

Before sunset, the skies lightened and the wind abated. While it was yet light the sanderlings left the barrier island and set out across the sound. Beneath them as they wheeled over the inlet was the deep green ribbon of the channel that wound, with many curvings, across the lighter shallows of the sound. They followed the channel, passing between the leaning red spar buoys, past the tide rips where the water streamed, broken into swirls and eddies, over a sunken reef of oyster shell, and came at last to the island. There they joined a company of several hundred white-rumped sandpipers, least sandpipers, and ring-necked plovers that were resting on the sand. 

While the tide was still ebbing, the sanderlings fed on the island beach…. As they slept, and as the earth rolled from darkness toward light, birds from many feeding places along the coast were hurrying along the flyways that led to the north. For with the passing of the storm the air currents came fresh again and the wind blew clean and steady from the southwest. All through the night the cries of curlews and plovers and knots, of sandpipers and turnstones and yellowlegs, drifted down from the sky. The mockingbirds who lived on the island listened to the cries. The next day they would have many new notes in their rippling, chuckling songs to charm their mates and delight themselves.  

About an hour before dawn the sanderling flock gathered together on the island beach, where the gentle tide was shifting the windrows of shells. The little band of brown-mottled birds mounted into the darkness and, as the island grew small beneath them, set out toward the north. 


 From "The Sense of Wonder," 1965 

I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have been aroused — a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love — then we wish for knowledge about the subject of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning. It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate. 


 From Carson's remarks at her acceptance of the National Book Award for Nonfiction 

The aim of science is to discover and illuminate truth. And that, I take it, is the aim of literature, whether biography or history or fiction. It seems to me, then, that there can be no separate literature of science….  

The winds, the sea, and the moving tides are what they are. If there is wonder and beauty and majesty in them, science will discover these qualities. If they are not there, science cannot create them. If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry…. 

We have looked first at man with his vanities and greed and his problems of a day or a year; and then only, and from this biased point of view, we have looked outward at the earth he has inhabited so briefly and at the universe in which our earth is so minute a part. Yet these are the great realities, and against them we see our human problems in a different perspective. Perhaps if we reversed the telescope and looked at man down these long vistas, we should find less time and inclination to plan for our own destruction. 


From "The Sense of Wonder," 1965 

A child's world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood. If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.  


 From Carson's speech in acceptance of the National Book Award, 1963 

Mankind has gone very far into an artificial world of his own creation. He has sought to insulate himself, in his cities of steel and concrete, from the realities of earth and water and the growing seed. Intoxicated with a sense of his own power, he seems to be going farther and farther into more experiments for the destruction of himself and his world.

There is certainly no single remedy for this condition and I am offering no panacea. But it seems reasonable to believe — and I do believe — that the more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us the less taste we shall have for the destruction of our race. Wonder and humility are wholesome emotions, and they do not exist side by side with a lust for destruction. 


 From Carson's "Essay on the Biological Sciences" in Good Reading, 1958 

Only within the 20th Century has biological thought been focused on ecology, or the relation of the living creature to its environment. Awareness of ecological relationships is — or should be — the basis of modern conservation programs, for it is useless to attempt to preserve a living species unless the kind of land or water it requires is also preserved. So delicately interwoven are the relationships that when we disturb one thread of the community fabric we alter it all — perhaps almost imperceptibly, perhaps so drastically that destruction follows…. 

If we have been slow to develop the general concepts of ecology and conservation, we have been even more tardy in recognizing the facts of the ecology and conservation of man himself. We may hope that this will be the next major phase in the development of biology. Here and there awareness is growing that man, far from being the overlord of all creation, is himself part of nature, subject to the same cosmic forces that control all other life. Man's future welfare and probably even his survival depend upon his learning to live in harmony, rather than in combat, with these forces…. 


 Letter to the editor, Washington Post, 1953 

… the way is being cleared for a raid upon our natural resources that is without parallel within the present century. 

The real wealth of the Nation lies in the resources of the earth — soil, water, forests, minerals, and wildlife. To utilize them for present needs while insuring their preservation for future generations requires a delicately balanced and continuing program, based on the most extensive research. Their administration is not properly, and cannot be, a matter of politics. 

By long tradition, the agencies responsible for these resources have been directed by men of professional stature and experience, who have understood, respected, and been guided by the findings of their scientists…. 

These actions within the Interior Department fall into place beside the proposed giveaway of our offshore oil reserves and the threatened invasion of national parks, forests and other public lands. 

For many years public-spirited citizens throughout the country have been working for the conservation of the natural resources, realizing their vital importance to the Nation. Apparently their hard-won progress is to be wiped out, as a politically minded Administration returns us to the dark ages of unrestrained exploitation and destruction. 

It is one of the ironies of our times that, while concentrating on the defense of our country against enemies from without, we should be so heedless of those who would destroy it from within. 


Introduction to "Humane Biology Projects," 1961
I like to define biology as the history of the earth and all its life — past, present, and future. To understand biology is to understand that all life is linked to the earth from which it came; it is to understand that the stream of life, flowing out of the dim past into the uncertain future, is in reality a unified force, though composed of an infinite number and variety of separate lives…. 

Any concept of biology is not only sterile and profitless, it is distorted and untrue, if it puts its primary focus on unnatural conditions rather than on those vast forces not of man's making that shape and channel the nature and direction of life. 

Last Updated: Feb 05, 2013
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