Thursday, June 30, 2011

Silent Spring

My online bookclub associate and I have begun reading Silent Spring by Rachel Carson as our "classic" for June.  Many credit this book for kicking off the "enviromental movement."  My father, a biologist, read it back in 1962 when it came out and promptly began using it in his university classes and occasionally at our dinner table.

I'm still near the beginning of this book, but I'm astounded how "current" some of it remains.  I read recently that the purple boxes hanging from trees in Virginia are part of an effort to study the movement of emerald ash borers from North to South.  When I heard a couple years ago that my hometown of Bluffton, Ohio has lost most, if not all, of its mature ash trees, I thought, does this mean the ash trees on our farm will soon follow suit?

Here's what Rachel Carson wrote about elm trees.  I imagine we could insert "ash" each time "elm" appears and it would remain fairly accurate:

"The same thing happens in other situations.  A generation or more ago, the towns of large areas of the United States lined their streets with the noble elm tree.  Now the beauty they hopefully created is threatened with complete destruction as disease sweeps through the elms, carried by a beetle that would have only limited chance to build up large populations and to spread from tree to tree if the elms were only occasional trees in a richly diversified planting."

I remember thinking back when elm trees were being destroyed that it was such a shame, that nature would do this to a variety of tree.  I didn't know then it was our fault -- concentrated planting.  Or that the same sort of thing happens when farmers plant thousands of acres of one crop -- and we find ourselves "needing" pesticides to control insects that descend on huge fields.  And then, as Carson wrote so long ago, the insects develop super-species immune to those pesticides, while the pesticide residues remain in soils, streams, water supplies, and eventually, human cells, mother's milk and embryos.

50 years later, the processes described in Silent Spring continue.  Most of us are oblivious.  History remains a class we suffer through and forget.

"Shame on us," says Virginia.


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