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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

A Sense of Wonder

Air Date: Week of August 26, 2005

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Friends of Rachel Carson described her as "a solemn-looking woman with the steady forthright gaze common in thoughtful children who prefer to listen rather than to talk." Actress Kaiulani Lee has worked to perfect the writer's mien in her one-woman play about Carson's writings, including "Silent Spring" and "Under the Seawind." Lee performs excerpts from her play, "A Sense of Wonder."

Transcript

(MUSIC FADES IN WITH BEETHOVEN VIOLIN CONCERTO)

CURWOOD: This is the violin concerto of Ludwig von Beethoven, a favorite piece of music of a woman without whose work and dedication there might be no Earth Day.

LEE: I didn't know what to do. All that was clear to me was that the information had to get out. People had no understanding of the risks they were being asked to take. We had all been made so well aware of the benefits of these pest controls. But why had no one alerted us to their potential dangers? I decided to write the book.

(Adapted from "Silent Spring"
Copyright © 1962 by Rachel L. Carson
Copyright © renewed 1990 by Roger Christie
Used by permission of Frances Collin, Trustee)

CURWOOD: Rachel Carson called her book Silent Spring. "Silent" spring because Ms. Carson wanted us to consider what our world would be like without the sounds of nature. Published in 1962, Silent Spring was a wake up call for an increasingly technological society and a bible for a fledgling environmental movement. We asked writer and actress Kaiulani Lee to read a few passages from a play she has written about the life of Rachel Carson, called "A Sense of Wonder."

LEE: In Lansing, Michigan, there was a study linking the death of the robin population to the spraying of the elm trees. The elms, which were being treated for Dutch Elm disease, were sprayed in the spring and again in July with two to five pounds of DDT per tree. In the autumn, the leaves fell, and as they decomposed, the earthworms fed on them, accumulating and concentrating the DDT in their bodies. Some of the earthworms died, but those that survived became biological magnifiers of the poison.

In the spring, the robins returned to Lansing, Michigan, and they ate the worms. Eleven large earthworms can transfer a lethal dose of DDT to a robin. A robin can eat eleven worms in as many minutes.
Not all of the robins ate a lethal dose, but the few that survived were unable to produce a single living offspring. How did we get to this?

(From "Silent Spring"
Copyright © 1962 by Rachel L. Carson
Copyright © renewed 1990 by Roger Christie
Used by permission of Frances Collin, Trustee)

[Violin concerto fades up]

LEE: I knew that by writing honestly about chemical contamination I was plunging myself into a sort of war with the chemical industry. But I never imagined the full force of the industry's fury. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent attempting to discredit not only the book, but the hysterical woman who wrote it. Fortunately the attack seemed to have backfired, creating more publicity than my publishers ever could have afforded. But the controversy has been exhausting. Is it any wonder I don't want to leave the state of Maine?

(From "A Sense of Wonder," the play based on the life and works of Rachel Carson by Kaiulani Lee, and used by permission of Frances Collin, Trustee.)

[Violin concerto]

LEE: To stand here at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of the mist over the great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shorebirds that have swept up and down these continents for untold thousands of years, to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.

(From "Under the Sea Wind"
Copyright © Rachel L. Carson 1941
Copyright © renewed Roger Christie 1969
Used by permission of Frances Collin, Trustee u-w-o Rachel Carson)

[Violin concerto]

LEE: I'll never forget the night Mr. Shawn telephoned me. William Shawn is the editor of the New Yorker magazine. He had just read my manuscript and he telephoned saying everything I could have asked or hoped for. That night, after Roger was asleep, I came back in here, and I put on the Beethoven Violin Concerto -- it's one of my favorites -- and suddenly, the tension of the four years was broken, and I let the tears come. And that night, the thought of all the birds and the other creatures, all the loveliness that is in nature, came to me with such a surge of deep happiness. I had done what I could. I had been able to complete it. And now it has its own life.

("From "A Sense of Wonder," the play based on the life and works of Rachel Carson by Kaiulani Lee, used by permission of Frances Collin, Trustee.)

CURWOOD: Kaiulani Lee reading from her play "A Sense of Wonder," based on Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" and "Under the Seawind," as well as material from the Carson biography "The House of Life," by Paul Brooks.

[MUSIC FADES DOWN]

 

Links

Rachel Carson website

Kaiulani Lee website

 

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