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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Rachel Carson


Rachel Carson and national wildlife artist Bob Hines in the Florida Keys, circa 1955. Hines and Carson pent many hours along the Atlantic coast visiting national wildlife refuges and gathering material for many of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife pamphlets and technical publications. (Courtesy of Rex Gary Schimidt/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)


 

"Silent Spring" may have changed the world, but Rachel Carson's legacy as a writer was already cemented by her first three books, including the 1952 national book award winner "The Sea Around Us." Here's a flavor of her writing from that volume:

The following excerpts are from:

The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson
Copyright © 1950 by Rachel L. Carson
Used by permission of Frances Collin, Trustee

"Beginnings are apt to be shadowy, and so it is with the beginnings of that great mother of life, the sea. Many people have debated how and when the earth got its ocean, and it is not surprising that their explanations do not always agree. For the plain and inescapable truth is that no one was there to see, and in the absence of eyewitness accounts there is bound to be a certain amount of disagreement. So if I tell here the story of how the young planet Earth acquired an ocean, it must be a story pieced together from many sources and containing whole chapters the details of which we can only imagine. The story is founded on the testimony of the earth's most ancient rocks, which were young when the earth was young; on other evidence written on the face of the earth's satellite, the moon; and on hints contained in the history of the sun and the whole universe of star-filled space. For although no man was there to witness this cosmic birth, the stars and moon and rocks were there, and, indeed, had much to do with the fact that there is an ocean."

"When they went ashore the animals that took up a land life carried with them a part of the sea in their bodies, a heritage which they passed on to their children and which even today links each land animal with its origin in the ancient sea. Fish, amphibian, and reptile, warm-blooded bird and mammal--each of us carries in our veins a salty stream in which the elements sodium, potassium, and calcium are combined in almost the same proportions as in sea water. This is our inheritance from the day, untold millions of years ago, when a remote ancestor, having progressed from the one-celled to the many-celled stage, first developed a circulatory system in which the fluid was merely the water of the sea. In the same way, our lime-hardened skeletons are a heritage from the calcium-rich ocean of Cambrian time. Even the protoplasm that streams within each cell of our bodies has the chemical structure impressed upon all living matter when the first simple creatures were brought forth in the ancient sea. And as life itself began in the sea, so each of us begins his individual life in a miniature ocean within his mother's womb, and in the stages of his embryonic development repeats the steps by which his race evolved, from gill-breathing inhabitants of a water world to creatures able to live on land."

"Pressure, darkness, and--we should have added only a few years ago--silence, are the conditions of life in the deep sea. But we know now that the conception of the sea as a silent place is wholly false. Wide experience with hydrophones and other listening devices for the detection of submarines has proved that, around the shore lines of much of the world, there is an extraordinary uproar produced by fishes, shrimps, porpoises, and probably other forms not yet identified. There has been little investigation as yet of sound in the deep, offshore areas, but when the crew of the Atlantis lowered a hydrophone into deep water off Bermuda, they recorded strange mewing sounds, shrieks, and ghostly moans, the sources of which have not been traced. But fish of shallower zones have been captured and confined in aquaria, where their voices have been recorded for comparison with sounds heard at sea, and in many cases satisfactory identification can be made."

"So here and there, in a few out-of-the-way places, the darkness of antiquity still lingers over the surface of the waters. But it is rapidly being dispelled and most of the length and breadth of the ocean is known; it is only in thinking of its third dimension that we can still apply the concept of the Sea of Darkness. It took centuries to chart the surface of the sea; our progress in delineating the unseen world beneath it seems by comparison phenomenally rapid. But even with all our modern instruments for probing and sampling the deep ocean, no one now can say that we shall ever resolve the last, ultimate mysteries of the sea. In its broader meaning, that other concept of the ancients remains. For the sea lies all about us. The commerce of all lands must cross it. The very winds that move over the lands have been cradled on its broad expanse and seek ever to return to it. The continents themselves dissolve and pass to the sea, in grain after grain of eroded land. So the rains that rose from it return again in rivers. In its mysterious past it encompasses all the dim origins of life and receives in the end, after, it may be, many transmutations, the dead husks of that same life. For all at last return to the sea--to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end."

(The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson
Copyright © 1950 by Rachel L. Carson
Used by permission of Frances Collin, Trustee)

Laura Knoy, reading excerpts from "The Sea Around Us" by Rachel Carson. The work won the National Book Award and was on the best sellers list for 86 weeks starting in 1952.

 


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