Cultivating wonder the Rachel Carson way

Sheepscot River, Maine  –  To a girl who grew up reading poetry and playing in Allegheny streams, a storyteller who dreamed of the sea before she ever saw it, a biologist who studied between world wars and took a job with the federal government to support her family, this tiny sliver of the Maine coastline must have seemed the strangest and most familiar place in the whole world.

This article in Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors magazine explores Rachel Carson’s writing, and the power of wonder. Carson knew what was at risk from pesticides and other pollution: the haunting song of the hermit thrush, the herring swimming between tide-swept ledges, the sanderlings running into the surf—the beauty, the vibrancy, the mystery of life on Earth.

As Jill Lepore wrote in the New Yorker, Carson couldn’t have written the landmark Silent Spring “if she hadn’t, for decades, scrambled down rocks, pulled up her pant legs, and waded into tide pools.”

In other writings and speeches, Carson was clear about the connection between examining and marveling at tide pools and a desire to protect nature, including people. She was one of the founding members of the Maine chapter of The Nature Conservancy, because she believed people needed sanctuaries, places they could go and walk and “get what they need…the peace and spiritual refreshment that our ‘civilization’ makes so difficult to achieve.”

“Help your child to wonder,” she wrote, because “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 destruction.”

This is perhaps her most important message for this moment…Wonder leads to caring, to action. How will people learn to love nature and try to protect it if all they know is how it is in trouble, depleted, polluted, changing, and wrong?

Reported from the shore of the Sheepscot River in Southport, Maine, and partially supported by Maine Sea Grant, the full story appears in the September issue of Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors magazine.