Rachel Carson became famous and, unfortunately, controversial when she published “Silent Spring” in 1962. She warned in the book that there would come a time when no birds sang — a silent spring — if humans continued to poison the earth with pesticides like DDT. Birds of prey, including our American symbol, the bald eagle, were particularly hard hit. Many feared that eagles and peregrine falcons were headed for extinction. DDT use was eventually banned and hasn’t been used in the United States for many years. Yet, we continue to be exposed to an incredible range of manmade chemicals in almost all aspects of our lives, whether we like it or not. The silent spring Carson predicted, thankfully, hasn’t happened yet, but many species of birds here in North America and world-wide have suffered steep declines in their populations since that time. Eagles and peregrines are successfully breeding again thanks to the DDT ban, but some spring songs once commonly heard are seldom heard today, and the spring choir continues to grow smaller.
A possibly more important, if less controversial, book by Rachel Carson was published in 1964 shortly after her death. “The Sense of Wonder” called attention to another growing concern, the loss of that glorious sense of wonder that children so naturally posses if given the chance and the nurturing of a caring adult or two who haven’t lost it all themselves. Great naturalists tried to define it even before 1900 and knew instinctively that a sense of wonder was crucial if a person was to grow up loving the land. They knew that people who lost that precious sense seldom cared much about the land and were more likely to abuse it.
I have a 2 ½–year-old granddaughter who has that sense of wonder, and it’s a joy to behold. She and her grandma ventured outdoors during a recent snow shower to try to catch snow flakes on their tongues. Big fluffy flakes landed on her golden hair and smiling face. She danced in absolute joy as only a toddler can! Compare that to adults (unfortunately, even me sometimes). Temperature is falling and it’s spitting snow as I write today. I came in from filling bird feeders and announced that it was miserable outside. That said, I was also wishing that I could be somewhere on a duck marsh or out in the woods instead of spending the afternoon here at the computer. Even though it was uncomfortable filling the feeders, I long for the magic that is often found out in nature during an early snowfall.
I’m so glad that some adults who hadn’t forgotten their own sense of wonder nurtured in me a sense of delight in the natural world when I was young. I have learned a lot over the years and have had many of my nature questions answered. I’m glad there are still others that remain unanswered and maybe even unknowable, though. I like being awed by things more wonderful than I can understand. Perhaps some of those questions will yet gain answers, but new questions will hopefully keep my sense of wonder alive. It helps to be around little people like my granddaughter. Some of their natural sense of wonder and joy tends to rub off and keep me going until I can get out and experience a little more of that old magic myself (or spend a little more time with a toddler). See if you can’t rediscover your own sense of wonder by getting outdoors. Most of you had it once and a few lucky ones still do. You just might fall in love with nature all over again and, hopefully, based on that love, will do what you can to care for the land. That soon will include electing some good people who also care enough for the land to do what’s needed to protect all the wild wonders it still holds.
I think I’ll take at least a short walk in the woods in spite of the miserable weather as soon as this column is finished!
Steve Lekwa is a former director of Story County Conservation.