On September 27th a joyous event took place under the towering tulip poplars and oaks of the Glover Archbold National Park in Washington, DC.
The event celebrated the unveiling of a commemorative panel honoring Rachel Carson for her work and her link to the Park. It honored as well the two philanthropists for which the Park is named, Charles Glover and Anne Archbold. This tribute primarily to Carson by the National Park Service (NPS) resulted from an endeavor in which participation by D.C. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton was pivotal. It was spearheaded by Washington writer/poet, Howard Bray, assisted by local DC residents, and the Rachel Carson Landmark Alliance (RCLA).
The attractive panel is situated on a grassy slope near the Park’s trail access on the south side of Reservoir Road. It provides information on the historical importance of Rachel Carson through her book Silent Spring, a groundbreaking work released in 1962 that warned a then unknowing citizenry about problems with chemical pesticides. The book’s revelations contributed to a nationwide environmental awakening that resulted in major governmental actions and significant long term effects. In referring to Rachel Carson’s impact through Silent Spring the panel credits: the founding of the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the banning by the Agency of many persistent pesticides including DDT and the subsequent recovery of the Bald eagle populations that had been on the verge of extinction due to the adverse effects of widespread chemical pesticide use.
Also on the panel are quotes from Rachel Carson’s 5th book, The Sense of Wonder in which she encourages parents to share with children the “joy, excitement and mystery” that is present in nature. She saw in the natural world a source of beauty, healing and “reserves of strength that…endure as long as life lasts.” To her these beneficial effects of nature, now regarded as ecosystem services, can be available to those who put themselves, “under the influence of earth, sea and sky and their amazing life.” (Carson, R., The Sense of Wonder, 1965)
The event hosted by NPS’s Tara Morrison, Rock Creek Park Superintendant featured observations by DC Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, Dr. Diana Post, President of the Rachel Carson Landmark Alliance, and Tamara Strobel from the Center for Biological Diversity. It began with a musical tribute to Rachel Carson from the “Songs for the Earth” CD and concluded fittingly with a bird walk conducted by NPS’ “Ranger Maggie” (the birds identified included: cardinals, blue jays, crows, a Carolina wren and a Pileated woodpecker).
Representative Norton reminded those present that Rachel Carson was a government scientist with a deeply rooted appreciation for nature who also enjoyed roaming the woods observing birds. She further reminded the gathering that residents of Washington DC have access to an array of forest areas with trails where they too can experience nature.
Norton’s remarks included a brief reference to her original request on behalf of citizens that the NPS name the Park’s trail for Rachel Carson. When the officials could not be convinced, she worked with the parties involved to achieve the agreed upon panel as an acceptable way to honor Rachel Carson and her association with the Park. Rep. Norton gave high marks and much credit to those citizens whose hard work provided the photos and evidence that (in her words) “enabled us to get this long-overdue recognition of Rachel Carson’s path-breaking environmental work installed where it belongs – in Glover Archbold Park.” Note: RCLA has been actively helping the local citizens throughout this 4-year process.
The panel features two aspects of Carson’s work: her focus on science and her love of the natural world. Diana Post’s remarks reflected these themes as well as Carson’s gift as a writer. Post cited the observations of Paul Brooks (Carson’s editor) on the strong attraction for nature that Carson experienced. He wrote: “Rachel Carson was a realistic, well-trained scientist… who had an emotional response to nature for which she did not apologize. The more she learned, the greater grew what she termed `the sense of wonder.’ So she succeeded in making a book about death, [Silent Spring] a celebration of life.” (Paul Brooks, “Foreword” to Silent Spring, 1987 ed)
To commemorate this event, which occurred on the 54th anniversary (to the day) of Silent Spring’s publication in book form, Post read several of its inspiring passages that showed Carson’s graceful writing style, her lyrical language and ecological insights. Note that: Due to the continued widespread use of chemical pesticides, Silent Spring remains relevant for us today. (for the full text of Post’s remarks click here)
Tamara Strobel from the Center for Biological Diversity commented how she had been inspired by Rachel Carson to work in the environmental area of entomology. She shared one of her favorite Carson quotes: “Exploring nature…is largely a matter of becoming receptive to what lies all around you. It is … learning to use your eyes, ears, nostrils and finger tips, opening up the disused channels of sensory impression.” (The Sense of Wonder)
Despite predictions of gloomy weather the afternoon proved sunny and fair. The event’s success reflected the efforts of Superintendent Morrison’s hard-working, dedicated NPS staff members, including Nick Bartolomeo, Jamie Keller and Katherine Cain who in conjunction with Howard Bray, RCLA and local citizens prepared the panel and organized the unveiling event.
Most of the 35 persons invited by NPS to attend the panel unveiling signaled their approval of the event and lingered after the program’s conclusion. Their discussions indicated that they were drawn together by personal relationships to the Park, to Rachel Carson’s writings and to the newly installed panel which rewarded years of effort.