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Rachel Carson was a scientist and author who wrote about the mysteries of nature. She spoke up when the environment was in danger and wanted people to understand how they were one small part of the huge, wide world.
This podcast is a production of Rebel Girls. It’s based on the book series Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. This story was produced by Joy Smith with sound design and mixing by Mumble Media. It was written by Apryl Lee and Abby Sher. Fact-checking by Joe Rhatigan. Narration by ornithologist and environmentalist, Mya-Rose Craig. Original theme music was composed and performed by Elettra Bargiacchi. Thank you to the whole Rebel Girls team who make this podcast possible. Stay rebel!
Mya is a climate change and environmental activist and campaigner since she was 11 years old! She is also an ornithologist, which means she’s an expert on birds! Hear how she stays positive and gets kids excited about nature.
|Once there was a cuckoo bird chattering in the woods, a whistling bob-white gathering sticks for its nest, a lilac bush bursting with sweet-smelling purple blooms, and a girl named Rachel Carson, bounding through the forest with a wild sense of wonder.|
|I’m Mya-Rose Craig. And this is Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.
A fairy tale podcast about the rebel women who inspire us. On this episode, one of the most influential pioneers in the global environmental movement, Rachel Carson.
|Rachel was born in 1907 in Springdale, Pennsylvania, a rural town by the Allegheny River. She was the youngest of three children and grew up in a four-room, clapboard house with no running water and only fireplaces and coal stoves for heat. Rachel loved it there, especially when she and her mom went on wilderness adventures together, which they did a lot. Rachel’s mom taught her all about flora and fauna, birdsongs and trees.
One warm, spring afternoon, Rachel and her mom went out exploring — past the pink budding apple trees in their orchard, up hilly fields speckled with wildflowers, and into the surrounding forest. The soft scent of honeysuckle filled the air as Rachel leapt over twigs and sang along with the local birds like the timberdoodles and warblers.
“Ooh, Mom! Look!”
A smooth, sparkly rock caught Rachel’s eye. Next to it was an elegant pine cone, and a brilliant striped blue jay feather. Rachel and her mom examined the beautiful artifacts, marveling at how they each had their own reasons for being there. Then, after a little while, her mom told Rachel to put each piece back where she’d found them. She wanted Rachel to always respect the wilderness, and to remember that humans were just a tiny part of a vast, magnificent world.
|When Rachel was eight years old, she started writing stories about all the plants and animals around her. She loved the idea of sharing her connection to nature with other people and tried to describe all the spectacular sights, sounds and smells of her world by the river. When she was ten, she got her story, “A Battle in the Clouds” published in her favorite magazine!
Rachel was inspired to write more and more about her outdoor adventures. She had dreams of becoming a nature writer and exploring not only the forests, but also the oceans. She studied diligently in school and college, focussing on language and science, and when she graduated, she was invited to do research at a Marine Biology Laboratory in Wood’s Hole, Massachusetts.
As she stepped onto the rocky shoreline by the lab and felt the waves of the Atlantic Ocean lapping at her feet for the very first time, Rachel felt like she’d entered a whole new world. And in many ways, she had. She’d always wondered what it was like below the surface of the ocean — the rhythms of the tides, the flow of jellyfish and eels, the coral reefs and seagrass rising from the ocean’s floor.
At Wood’s Hole, Rachel got to immerse herself in this watery blue world, doing research right on the beach! She was in awe of it all — the seagulls calling as they soared overhead; the waves cresting and crashing onto the shore. She was dazzled by all the shimmering shells and seaweed, the crabs scuttling down into the wet sand. The ocean was so full of mysteries and miracles. She needed to write about it all!
|During this time, Rachel had a lot of responsibilities at home. She lived with her mother and two nieces and had to help provide for them. After graduate school, Rachel worked many different jobs to support her family. She taught university courses and wrote for the US Bureau of Fisheries. Soon she got a full-time job as an aquatic biologist. This was a big deal, since there were very few women who were paid to be scientists in the 1930’s, and not many jobs to go around.
Rachel collected ocean data, examined microscopic marine life and went on many adventures. She worked on a research boat and tracked alligators, she got up close to observe a coral reef underwater wearing a heavy, 84-pound diving helmet. She lived, breathed and dedicated herself to investigating and celebrating the world underwater.
Working as a scientist and caring for her mom and nieces didn’t leave much time to write, but Rachel felt like she had a book inside her that needed to get out! So, she wrote late at night after everyone else was in bed and got up before anyone was awake to start again. As sunrise spilled into her study, Rachel poured every word and image she could think of onto the page. A mockingbird sang outside her window. Her cats lounged across her desk. She wrote about the light of the sky cascading through the ocean’s edge. She wrote about the constant motion of fish and the swells of water that churned up from the deepest depths.
She shared her love of the ocean and made an incredible book called Under the Sea-Wind, which was published in 1941 and got great reviews.
With Under the Sea-Wind, Rachel opened up a whole new way of writing about science. She made science fascinating, using poetic descriptions to tell stories and bring everything to life. Sea creatures were vivid characters and readers could imagine themselves as a mackerel darting away from a fierce bluefish. As Rachel said, “no one could truthfully write about the sea and leave out the poetry.”
Over the next fourteen years, Rachel wrote two more books about the sea that became beloved by readers. She evoked sights and sounds, the smell of briny air and the slick swirl of colors in spiral snail shells and mussels. The world was loud and full of so many forms of life if only we would stop and listen.
|But what if, one day, all was silent?
Rachel knew the effects of pollution on nature. She had seen factory smoke fogging the air of her hometown and garbage in the oceans and rivers. Now, there was another problem. The government had started spreading pesticides to kill mosquitoes and insects, but birds and fish were also dying after these chemicals were sprayed over fields and forests, backyards and farms.
Rachel wondered, if the pesticides had harmful effects on birds and fish, what effects did they have on people, the air they breathed, and the water they drank? Rachel began to study these pesticides. Even though the government said these chemicals were safe, her research proved that they weren’t. Rachel needed to tell people about this before it was too late, so she poured her heart into writing a new kind of book.
She knew that writing this would upset many people, but she also knew this was too important. Rachel spent four years writing and revising, doing complex research in chemistry, biology, and math.
She called her book Silent Spring, a title that asked readers to imagine a springtime with no birds singing, no rustling of leaves in the trees. A world that had gone silent because chemicals had destroyed nature.
Silent Spring was published in 1962 and became a worldwide best seller. Readers were shocked to learn about the dangers of pesticides, especially since they had been told they were safe for humans. Meanwhile, chemical companies, the government, and even other scientists disagreed. They accused Rachel of exaggerating or being wrong. But Rachel knew her research was proven and she continued to speak out. She went on television and even testified before Congress to demand laws to protect the environment.
The contamination of the environment with harmful substances is one of the major problems of modern life, she said. The world of air and water and soil supports not only the hundreds of thousands of species of animals and plants, it supports man himself.
Rachel’s words were so powerful and clear, she couldn’t be ignored. The government gathered a committee of scientists who proved that she was right, and Congress started changing the way chemicals were inspected and regulated. And the environmental movement to preserve this planet was born.
|Rachel’s writing helped change the way people think about our place in this world. She inspired generations of climate protectors and warriors — her words taking root so we could sprout, bloom and grow. And each day we learn that there is more to do if we want to save this planet.
In Rachel’s final book, A Sense of Wonder, she wrote about her adventures exploring with her grand-nephew, Roger and the importance of encouraging a child’s sense of wonder. Just as her mom taught her, the more we listen to and respect this magnificent natural world, the more we can flourish ourselves.
So, the next time you pick up a rock or a seashell, observe its beauty and give it back to nature. Pause to listen to a sparrow’s song, or watch a worm tunneling through the dirt. There are so many ways to care for the environment and use your voice to protect it. There is so much to discover and appreciate when we carry on Rachel’s rebel spirit!
|This podcast is a production of Rebel Girls. It’s based on the book series Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.
This episode was narrated by ME, Mya-Rose Craig. It was produced and directed by Joy Smith, with sound design and mixing by Mumble Media. It was written and edited by Abby Sher. Fact checking by Joe Rhatigan. Our executive producers are Jes Wolfe and Joy Smith.
Original theme music was composed and performed by Elettra Bargiacchi.
A special thanks to the whole Rebel Girls team, who make this podcast possible!
Until next time, staaaay rebel!