Wednesday, November 28, 2012

In praise of Earth-Lovers & Way-showers: Rachel and Amy

As an eighth-grader in 1963 I was working on a research paper about water pollution when a teacher placed a copy of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in my hands. I wasn’t yet aware of just how much controversy it had already created since its publication the year before. Her powerfully and eloquently written book was shocking the public into a fuller awareness of the environmental dangers of DDT and also calling into question the too-often unregulated use of pesticides in general. Opposition to her message was fierce, but she would not be silenced.  

I could not put her book down. Like me, she loved the natural world passionately, especially the ocean and all wild creatures. And while she might be disheartened at the destruction people could cause to nature, she was certain of our ability to wake up to what was happening and seek ways to begin to repair the damage. She helped her readers… us…to see the larger story of environmental degradation caused by humans, and also helped us to recognize our place and part to play within this larger story. There were things we could and should do. Reading Silent Spring awakened in me a life long passion to be a part of that effort.

Her legacy is immense. One part was first the regulation of DDT and ultimately its banning altogether (though it’s again in limited use in Africa's malaria-prone areas). Another was the birth of the environmental movement and the start of Earth Day in 1970. As a college sophomore, I was an enthusiastic organizer for our campus’s events that April day.

More was to follow with the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency. Even if its record has been uneven, it still represents Carson’s hope that “as mankind…we prove our maturity and mastery not of nature, but of ourselves.” This quote is from William Souder’s enjoyable 2012 biography of Carson, On a Farther Shore, written in honor of the 50th anniversary of Silent Spring’s publication and of her wonderful life.

That the Bald Eagle has made such a dramatic comeback after near annihilation from the effects of DDT, that there never has been a Spring silent of bird song, is due in large part to Rachel Carson’s dogged persistence and refusal to be silent. And without a doubt her life has instilled in me the unshakable conviction that one person can make a difference no matter how immense or daunting the task.

As I was finishing Souder’s biography, news reached me of the passing of another gentle, passionate Earth-lover, my Mystery School friend, Amy Ober Flanders. And like Rachel Carson who died far too soon, such is true of Amy’s going. They both were just 56.

Amy embodied a complete en-joy-ment of and intimate relationship with Gaia - Mother Earth - and all Her beings, sentient and insentient. She took heed of the words of Jean Houston, our mutual mentor, to "be fierce with your own reality". Amy fully inhabited her life, offering all of us this brightly lighted example for our own onward journeys.

It is my belief that Amy and Rachel are both “on a farther shore” to borrow Souder’s title. Someday I imagine that we’ll be catching up with them and giving our reports. While I am still here, I pledge to remain an unabashed Earth-lover as they both were.

And I have my voice. And I am not at all shy about raising it in both praise-song of this beautiful Earth and to help raise whatever clamor might be necessary in its preservation.

Thank you, Rachel, and thank you, Amy, for the blessings of your days shared here with us in this wondrous Earth-home.