RALEIGH – Rachel Carson’s love for the natural world and her fight to defend it are the focus of a new film, “A Sense of Wonder,” which shows at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences on Sunday, May 24 at 3:30 p.m. as part of a 100-city nationwide tour. Free.
Rachel Carson — writer, scientist and ecologist — was born in 1907 and grew up simply in the rural river town of Springdale, Pennsylvania. Her mother instilled her with a love of nature and the living world that Carson expressed first as a student of marine biology and later as a writer. She began a 15-year career in the federal service as a scientist and editor in 1936 — writing pamphlets on conservation and natural resources —and rose to become Editor-in-Chief of all publications for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In Carson’s free time, she tried her hand at lyric prose, first in the article “Undersea” (1937) and then in a book, “Under the Sea-Wind” (1941). In 1952 she published her prize-winning study of the ocean, “The Sea Around Us,” which was followed by “The Edge of the Sea” in 1955. These books constituted a biography of the ocean and made Carson famous as a naturalist and science writer. She resigned from government service in 1952 to devote herself to her writing.
Carson wrote several other articles designed to teach people about the wonder and beauty of the living world, including “Help Your Child to Wonder” (1956) and “Our Ever-Changing Shore” (1957), and planned another book on the ecology of life. Embedded within all of her writing was the view that human beings were but one part of nature distinguished primarily by their power to alter it, in some cases irreversibly.
Disturbed by the widespread use of synthetic chemical pesticides after World War II, Carson reluctantly changed her focus in order to warn the public about the long-term effects of misusing pesticides. In “Silent Spring” (1962) she challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government, and called for a change in the way humankind viewed the natural world. Testifying before Congress in 1963, Carson called for new policies to protect human health and the environment.
Carson died in 1964 after a long battle against breast cancer. Her life and writings continue to inspire new generations to protect the living world and all its inhabitants.