What do Rachel Carson and Pelicans have in common? She’d be so pleased to tell you!

I had a very unusual animal encounter the other day.

Heading home over the port bridges a Pelican flew dangerously low, swooping in front of my car windshield  and I am sure he looked me right in the eye. It was most disarming!  From what I’ve observed in recent trips to the ocean, the pelican population appears healthy. This is good news considering just a few years ago the California Brown Pelican was on the endangered list.

In the 1960′s, the Brown Pelican population in California decreased by more than 90 per cent. Scientists identified a chemical plant discharging DDT into Los Angeles County sewers and the poison waste entered the coastal waters, poisoning the pelicans’ food source. The pelicans weren’t immediately killed by DDT poisoning, but instead suffered a calcium metabolism condition contributing to egg-thining. So much so, that that pelican parents broke the eggs they were incubating.

In 1970, before the banning of DDT, there was but one lone pelican chick hatched. Pelicans weren’t the only bird affected by DDT, of course. DDT-caused shell thinning wiped out the Peregrine Falcon population in the eastern United States, and took a tremendous toll on the populations of Bald Eagles and Ospreys, as well as other species.

I have spent time this week learning more about our pelican friends. One of my favorite resources is the World Wildlife Organization. They do good work around the world protecting and restoring species and their habitats. It was here that I was directed to learning more about Rachel Carson’s work contributing to saving the Pelican.

Silent Spring just celebrated a fiftieth birthday in September yet continues to be referenced as a warning against unexamined pesticide use. Carson died just two years after her famous book was published, but her work continues to influence individuals and governmental policies.

Many credit her with inspiring the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, passage of the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act. And although Carson did not call for a complete ban of DDT and other chemicals, instead suggesting that studies be conducted to clearly determine the extent of adverse effects, her  legacy is forever tied to the eventual eradication of DDT, for which critics blame her for malaria deaths around the world. In 2006, the World Health Organization announced plans to reintroduce DDT usage in order to fight against malaria.

What is it I’m always saying about more than one perspective on any issue?

I first read Silent Spring in the 1970′s when environmental activism , conservation studies, and green politics took a modern upswing, and I think it’s safe to say that prior to reading this book I’d never once thought about pesticide use. Her book opened my eyes, however, and I’ve stayed alert to the issues through the following decades.

I do try to use caution against making sweeping statements about chemical use when I know there may be serious repercussions if certain pests are not controlled. But I am also very strongly in Rachel Carson’s corner, advocating that we fund studies and ask lots of questions. I like questions. I am particularly wary about the longterm effects of pesticide residue on food products and the potential poisoning of our air and waterways.

Probably the only thing I know for sure is that there are no easy answers. Not everyone can live in California where we are heavily taxed to warn and protect us in almost every sector of our lives.

What? A little too much? You may be right. I held up a security line to whip out my camera and take this photo. I do laugh at how far “out there” the pendulum swings.

So here we are at another weekend, and my well-being is tied very closely to contemplating my relationship with nature while enjoying the outdoors.

I’m currently reading Carson’s, “The Edge of the Sea,” exploring rocky shores, sandy beaches and the beauty of the tide pool. Carson was a marine biologist AND conservationist, and this book, part of a trilogy, is both science and poetry.

Each season has something beautiful to offer and I want to fully appreciate this weekend, shaking off the residue of a busy, hectic week, quieting my mind as much as possible and moving into a slower more observant weekend pace.

Will you do the same? Take a deep breath, and exhale

“To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the 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.” –Rachel Carson

Breathe Deep…Debra

45 thoughts on “What do Rachel Carson and Pelicans have in common? She’d be so pleased to tell you!

  1. A thought-provoking post, Debra. I read Silent Spring back in the early 70s when I first started work as a librarian and agree that her work was ground-breaking and her writing remarkably poetic. As you point out, it’s wrong to blame her for the consequences of the DDT ban, when she advocated control and research into effects, but I’m still glad that she was brave enough to stand up and tell the world what we were (and still are) doing to our planet.

    • I don’t think I had the maturity in the 70s to understand Rachel Carson’s courage to stand up to Nobel Prize scientists and speak her mind. I didn’t understand how hard that was to be discredited. But I admire her today with full measure and find myself really wanting to know more about her as a woman. Her level of education and her record as a marine biologist were impressive by current standards, but for a woman of her era? What an amazing accomplishment. She does inspire me to be more vigilant in my own areas of advocacy and support! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on an amazing woman, Perpetua. She set a high bar, didn’t she! :-)

    • i find that in re-reading Rachel Carson’s work I “hear” her differently than when I was so much younger. I admire her strength of conviction with a deeper understanding of what being a woman in a very masculine scientific community of the time cost her personally. Thanks for reading and stopping by, Frank. I hope you have a great weekend.

  2. Wonderful post, Debra. I find Rachel Carson to be heroic. She battled the chemical companies and powers-that-be and was ridiculed for it – an hysterical woman, they said – but in so doing, she started a movement that stirred our collective consciousness. Sure, there are times when I’m scratching a mosquito bite, hoping I’m not the next victim of West Nile Virus. Then a hawk soars overhead, dancing aloft with his mate, and I feel the earth is in a better balance. Hard choices we have, best made by being informed. I’m exhaling now.

    • Heroic is such a good word for Rachel Carson, Penny. I am smiling, but I absolutely would have predicted, would have known, you’d be very connected to Rachel Carson. I find that although I knew her work and understood the impact she made on environmentalism, reading her today is like being introduced for the first time. I think I was almost too young and “uninformed” when I first read her books. I’m learning things now I definitely overlooked before. I’m glad I could highlight her a bit and find others who are in agreement she was quite amazing. Isn’t it hard to comprehend Silent Spring is 50 years old, Penny? I don’t always like to do the math! :-) Have a wonderful weekend, my friend.

  3. Gorgeous post, Debra.

    We’ve wandered the Rachel Carson Preserve in Maine, and attended a play about her life (and the intimidation she faced while writing Silent Spring).

    A brave and forward-thinking woman. We shall be forever in her debt.

    • Nancy, your opportunity to visit her Preserve and attend a play about Rachel Carson’s experiences is really exciting. I would love that! She was indeed brave. When I consider how difficult it must have been to be a female scientist in the mid-century–she was extraordinary! She is still an inspiration today, and that’s really saying something! Hope you have a great weekend, Nancy.

    • I know you’d enjoy Rachel Carson’s work, Fiona. You’d be inspired! I think you’d find strength of conviction in reading her work. You’re so dedicated in your own advocacy roles, and you’d be amazed at all she accomplished in an era that wasn’t very friendly towards women with strong and assertive points of view! Hope you have a great weekend, my friend.

  4. I’m so glad the pelicans have increased in number! It disgusts me when these rampant and irresponsible uses of chemicals destroys eco-systems and/or certain species, not to mention what they do to us humans! I won’t get onto my soapbox, but it’s a really sore issue with me, especially since most of it is preventable through responsible action.

    • I love your comment about the soap box. I cut about two hundred words out of my “final” post because I did get a little preachy/screechy! Ha! I went on about my concerns with experimenting with our food sources and GMO seed. I sounded angry! Well, sometimes I am. :-) I know that reading Rachel Carson, again, has me all fired up to be a better support to those out there doing the tough work in conservation and ecological interventions. Sometimes we need our soapboxes, though, too, right? Hope you have a great weekend!

    • Your’e so right…I would have absolutely known you admire and appreciate the work and writing attributed to Rachel Carson! :-) Once I started thinking about her I haven’t been able to get her off my mind. I think I’d like to know more about her personal life. She is an amazing woman for any time period, but for the era in which she gained her education and came to prominence, she must have driven the “boys club” just crazy! :-) I hope to find a good biography and just sink into it! Thanks for reading and stopping by with your comments.

  5. I believe that without Ms. Carson, we would have eventually ‘seen the light’, that someone else would have sounded the alarm. The question is, when and at what cost? Would there be any peregrine falcons anywhere in the US? Pelicans? Bald eagles? She saved them, along with so many others, and our landscape is all the better for it.

    • Thank you for sharing, too, John. I hadn’t given Rachel Carson too much thought in many, many years, but once I started really thinking about her, the costs she paid to be in the limelight and to come under such direct scrutiny and criticism, and her overall dedication during a time when women weren’t taken very seriously, I can’t stop thinking about her. Isn’t it interesting that even today we can politicize and make such harsh divisions about conservation measures. It’s a lot of work to stay on top of the issues, isn’t it? I hope you have a great week, John. Looks like you may have Internet again! :-)

    • It is very sad, indeed, Marie, that a species can be “wiped out” or seriously harmed and we don’t mourn it. Well, many do, but so many more don’t understand our interdependence. I don’t know nearly as much about Rachel Carson as I hope to. I have been thinking about her a lot lately and would love to really know more about her as a woman. I do hope you have a wonderful, strong and healthy week, Marie! :-)

  6. I have no idea why the quote from your post doesn’t appear in my comment. So all I want to say is, that I have the feeling the pendulum ‘out there’ sometimes swings a bit too far.

    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting about Rachel Carson. I do think that in the United States, we have many extremes, Uta! Many! I suppose it’s partially due to the fact that our country is so large, and from coast to coast there are a lot of states in between! But in California there is a lot of emphasis on environmentalism. Sometimes it gets a bit restrictive, but overall I’m in favor of most of the measures. I do understand, however, that there are many complicated issues! I hope you have a tremendous week…safety and good healthy! :-)

  7. I love that you’re always exploring so many interesting topics.. your close encounter with a Pelican must have touched you deeply. I am so worried about the state of the planet we are leaving for our children. I think so much of our decisions are influenced by the economy that we’ve forgotten the human toll on our planet. I loved your quote, The Edge of the Sea sounds like a book I’d love to read.. poetry together with science would be fascinating. Did you buy this book or would it be at the local library?? xx as always!

    • I agree with you completely, Barbara, as well concerned that we aren’t focusing on environmental issues with nearly enough concern about our decisions today affecting tomorrow! I think environmentalism has become a political ‘hot potato’ instead of something we all might agree upon! But I am really enjoying re-reading Rachel Carson and she gives me a lot of things to think about, and I realize that I can support those organizations dedicated to making a difference. That can be my part in a bigger picture! I have had the books on my shelves for years, but I am sure The Edge of the Sea and her other books would all be in the library! I hope you will find time to read them. They aren’t literal poetry, but she writes with such a beautiful sense of language! It feels like poetry! :-)

    • My pelican “encounter” was really interesting and very unexpected. I saw him coming at me and for a moment was very concerned that we might collide. I live in such an urban environment that I find these very rare occurrences are such a cause for joy and celebration! I’m glad I could share it with you…you just never know!

  8. Rachel Carson is someone I had not heard of before and I definitely need to explore her story a bit more. :) I hope you’re enjoying your weekend pace today Debra!

    • I think you would enjoy reading Rachel Carson, Kristy. I think you’d find her interesting when you consider that her influence was even more impressive given the reality that mid-century it wasn’t easy for a woman to buck the trends! I hope sometime you can read “Silent Spring,” and perhaps eventually some of her other fine work! Have a great week, Kristy! :-)

    • I’m glad you stopped by, Edie. There are indeed wonderfully dedicated people who put a lot of there personal lives in the middle of political and economical turmoil to defend the environment and protect endangered species. I hope you have a good week. Monday comes around quickly, doesn’t it! :-)

  9. Of course you are right, any case has at least two perspective. But when it comes to DDT I think it’s pretty clear that the long term negative impact way outweighs any positive effects. And generally I believe that it’s better to be more protective than taking any chances when it comes to the use of chemical substances. So many times we have seen big corporations making big profits from use of pesticides or other chemicals and toning down their negative effects on human lives or the environment. Yes, studies are necessary, but before knowing it’s better to be safe than sorry. At least that’s where I stand.

    • I’m not at all in disagreement with you, Otto. I am very supportive of any environmental protection against poisons that affect the very survivability of any species. I perhaps didn’t state my opinion as clearly as I might have, but it is true that at least mid-century the banning of DDT did contribute to malarial deaths in under-developed countries. It’s always complicated. I am completely in agreement with you that the majority of these decisions could be made easier if big corporations didn’t oppose open research and transparency. We have some big battles in my state right now regarding labeling of genetically modified foods. Big corporations are fighting this labeling with the power of their status and funding. I’m inspired by Rachel Carson and it’s been a good time to bring her name up again. It’s hard for me to believe that her path-breaking book is now fifty years old! I hope you have a great week, Otto.

      • Those same companies are fighting labelling in Europe, too. For me it doesn’t matter whether GM-food has negative health effect or not. If people don’t want to buy it, they should be able to do so. For the capitalistic system to function as it is intended, information and openness is essential in order for people to use their power as consumers.

      • The negative ad campaigns “against” labeling is being very well-funded, as you can imagine. I’m really concerned about this, and have been for a long time. We’ll know in November if we have made any headway. I was under the impression that labeling was more consistent in Europe. It’s interesting to me how many of my friends really don’t care. I think that’s partially what is fueling my amazement at how differently “we” see things. You’d think at my age that would no longer be a surprise, wouldn’t you? I always really enjoy your perspectives , Otto. You give me things to think about from your different experiences, and I find that personally enriching. Have a wonderful week…hope you find good time to edit your wonderful photos from Cuba! :-)

  10. Dear Debra, I, who grew up in the Midwest and had never been beyond the confines of Missouri and Kansas and so had never seen the oceans, read two books that influenced my thinking about vast bodies of water: Rachel Carson’s “The Edge of the Sea” and Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s “Gift from the Sea.” A few years ago I purchased another copy of Lindbergh’s book and I still find it inspiring. I suspect that now that you’ve helped me remember Carson’s book, I’ll need to check it out of the library for a reread. Thank you. Peace.

    • I love Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book, too, Dee. In fact, I was looking for my copy the other day. I know I have it somewhere! :-) I wanted to read it again–it’s probably been thirty years since I read it! These women left such enduring impressions by their work and their names still inspire, don’t they? I’m so glad you stopped by, Dee, in the middle of your busy time right now. And I hope you’ve been enjoying your guests, too. Have a great week.

  11. Debra, we have pelicans in our neck of the woods. It is really funny, because they make a big mess (if you know what I mean) in the tourist areas downtown. The city invested no small amount of money in decoys for the trees, to keep the pelicans from nesting and leaving their (enormous) mark all over the sidewalks. :)

    I’m glad the birds were saved in CA. They are something to see in flight. Bigger than one expects a bird to be.

    • All coastal birds are so interesting, aren’t they, Andra? Your stories of them making a mess downtown is very funny! I can only imagine. I’ve seen what they can do on the piers and ocean boardwalk areas. But you expect it there, not in more public areas. Quite a problem, I’m sure. I have developed quite an interest in the pelicans this summer and I’m hoping to learn a little more about their habitats and what may still be the risk. They’re an odd looking bird, but maybe that makes me even more attracted to them! :-) I hope you have a great week, Andra!

  12. Pelicans are so big I can imagine you would have had quite a shock with one swooping towards you. They are a beautiful bird and it’s good to know they’re not on the endangered list xx

  13. I grew up on the beach in Newport and at that time, the pelican population was sparse. During my last few trips to California I have happily noticed that there are more and more pelicans. Great post- it is so important we take care of our earth. Eva

  14. I love how you share your books with us, and I love the books you read.
    Full disclosure: I haven’t read either of Rachel Carson’s books. I don’t know why. Off I go to get a copy of Silent Spring. Sheesh if she hadn’t written that book would any birds other than crows have survived?

    There’s something about pelicans that I love. It’s so beautiful to watch them flying by along the beach.. My god I didn’t know that 90% were wiped out by DDT.

  15. I remember Carson’s warnings back in the day before others joined voices with her… Environmental issues seem to have taken a back burner place lately…. thanks for this one and for that pelican. ;-)

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