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