You have made
this place sacred
by your presence
and your intention of holiness.
When you left
for the winter
as snow began to fall
you said to yourself
“I’m sad not to be able
to come again till spring”
and then words appeared
in your mind as if by magic
“you are not alone in your sadness
my friend”
and then you knew
beyond a shadow of doubt
that we are not alone on the planet:
the earth, the trees, the animals
the flowers, the birds
and the all and the every
once thought mute can speak.
“The trees weep for your return”
is what was really said to me
that day on flower mountain
and my heart knew
this to be true;
it is such a small world
when consciousness
goes only one way.

 
 


O N E

Miss Carson’s Book


Late in the summer of 1962, extreme weather visited both ends of the United States. In the West it was so hot that women wore swimsuits on the streets of San Francisco, and the smog levels in that city were the highest ever recorded. On the East Coast, Hurricane Alma churned northward, interrupting a pleasant spell as it neared the tip of Long Island. On August 28 the edge of the storm ended play at Yankee Stadium one inning after Mickey Mantle blasted what proved to be the game-winning home run to right center field through a driving rain. The next morning it was sunny and warm in the nation’s capital, where the Washington Post’s weather section reported daily radiation levels of just three micromicrocuries per cubic meter of air—unchanged from the day before and not bad given the recent pace of atmospheric nuclear weapons tests by both the United States and the Soviet Union.

That same day, President John F. Kennedy appeared at the State Department at four in the afternoon for the forty-second press conference of his year and a half in office. The president began by announcing Felix Frankfurter’s retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court. He then fielded questions about farm policy, tensions in Berlin, and whether he would meet with Nikita Khrushchev during the Soviet premier’s upcoming visit to the United Nations. Kennedy also answered several vaguely portentous queries about an apparent increase in Soviet shipping traffic to Cuba. Near the end, Kennedy took an unusual question. “Mr. President, there appears to be a growing concern among scientists as to the possibility of dangerous long-range side effects from the widespread use of DDT and other pesticides. Have you considered asking the Department of Agriculture or the Public Health Service to take a closer look at this?"

If he was surprised, Kennedy did not miss a beat. “Yes,” he said quickly, “and I know that they already are. I think, particularly, of course, since Miss Carson’s book, but they are examining the issue.”
In this brief exchange something new came into the world, for this was a cleaving point—the moment when the gentle, optimistic proposition called “conservation” began its transformation into the bitterly divisive idea that would come to be known as “environmentalism.” Kennedy’s promise of a government investigation into the contamination of the environment by a widely used and economically important class of products had no precedent. And because the government itself used pesticides extensively, any such inquiry necessarily had to look in the mirror. Compared with the other matters Kennedy had discussed that day—policies that would evolve, situations that would change and fade away—a problem with the health of the environment became by definition a problem with the totality of human existence. At issue was humanity’s place in the natural order of a world increasingly subservient to the human species. Who but us could devise so perfect a way to contend with ourselves?
On a Farther Shore launch party
Click here to listen to the audio of William Souder's talk during the launch party.

The president’s reference to “Miss Carson’s book” would now be opaque to the several generations of Americans who have come of age in the intervening years—Rachel Carson is unknown to almost any one under the age of fifty. But in 1962 no elaboration was needed. Carson was the bestselling author of three books about the oceans and by any measure one of America’s most respected and beloved writers. Or so she had been. The new book to which Kennedy referred, Silent Spring, was a bristling polemic about the indiscriminate use of pesticides. It was unlike anything Carson had previously written. Although not yet actually a book—it wouldn’t be published for another month—in June three long excerpts from Silent Spring had appeared in consecutive issues of The New Yorker. By the time of Kennedy’s press conference, The New Yorker articles had raised public alarm in the United States and abroad and prompted the chemicals industry to launch an angry and concerted effort to discredit Silent Spring and destroy its author.
The woman at the center of this firestorm scarcely seemed capable of becoming such a polarizing figure. Now fifty-five years old, Rachel Carson had spent most of her adult life in the company of her mother—writing, bird-watching, and visiting the seashore. Petite,soft-spoken, and nearly apolitical, she lived quietly in a leafy suburb of Silver Spring, Maryland, with a cat and her orphaned ten-year-old grandnephew, Roger Christie, whom she had adopted. Carson had earned a master’s degree in zoology at Johns Hopkins University but had never worked as a scientist. In the gloom of the Great Depression, she instead found a job as an information specialist with the federal government’s Bureau of Fisheries, an agency later merged with the Biological Survey to form the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In 1951 her book The Sea Around Us made Carson’s literary reputation—it stood atop the New York Times bestseller list for thirty-nine weeks and won the National Book Award—and she left government service. Every spring Carson and Roger drove north to Southport Island on the Maine coast, where she owned a cottage on a rocky bluff overlooking Sheepscot Bay. Here Carson passed her summers in reflection, gazing at the ebb and flow of the sea, collecting marine specimens in the tidal pools along the shore, and visiting, often deep into the fog-shrouded nights, with her neighbors Dorothy and Stanley Freeman. In the fall, she went home.

William Souder 
photo credit: Dani Werner

This excerpt of On a Farther Shore by William Souder has appeared here with permission from the publisher. Click here to read more of the excerpt. 

Click here to read Elizabeth Royte's review of On a Father Shore -- in the 9/14/2012 edition of The New York Times

Click here to listen to the interview with William Souder on The Diane Rehm Show.

Click here to read "On a Farther Shore: William Souder on the Legacy of Rachel Carson" -- on the Milkweed Editions blog. 
 
 
Bad Chemistry with a Half-Life

mercury
mirex
sulfuric acid
DDT
PCBs
If I do not mutate
from his radioactive toxins,
I will swim the lake home.


 



Not a Pretty Picture

Call them the purloiners of good rain,
the ushers of ulcerous sprawl;
call them the Torquemadas
of the Everglades;
call them the South Florida Water
Management District because
the Devil has to have a name.

With Him, we have made a Hades
of this young 15,000-year-old place,
a place spanning a scant 9-million-square acres
that ladles its 40-mile-wide River of Grass
slowly into the cradle of the sea.
Florida Bay now receives
but 1/10th of its historic flow.

Paddle into Satan’s Dead Zone
in the bay through 100 square miles
of moribund sea sponges.
Motor over 100,000 acres
of dying sea grass, manna of sea turtles.
Smell the reek of the dead.

Every accursèd day 600 people
adopt Florida as their home.
In the last 60 years, we’ve lost
¼ of our forests, ⅔rds of our wetlands;
and, at the end of the peninsula,
117 species risk extinction.                 

We count the iniquities:
1,074 miles of canals
   720 miles of levees
   250 primary control devices
    25 locks
    18 major pumping stations

and the wanton creation
of pathogenic levels
of mercury, nitrogen,
phosphorous, and pesticides.
The landscape hungers and thirsts.

                                                                    A rant for Campbell McGrath






Precipitating “The End”

The diminutive soul of a mid-winter
raindrop in the Everglades
can be induced to confess her
pitiful story of a long journey
to the face of your windshield,
to the eye of your telephoto lens.

It was a silvery piccolo voice
such as that willowy woman might
have had, had I stopped to visit
the nonagenarian hippie from New York
zipped into her one-person pup tent
at Long Pine Key.  Instead,
the small wet bead murmured:

By all rights I shouldn’t be here,
this is February, height of the dry season.
This system’s all messed up, all
messed up these days in this region.
I wasn’t due to depart Lake Okeechobee
until April, bound for a resurrection fern
on a cypress up by Pah-hay-o-kee.
Sure, I’d like to blame it on the current
South Florida Water Management District,
but I’m old, like that hardwood hammock
over at Royal Palm, first cycled through
what’s now the national park when
old  Nap Broward was in the governor’s
mansion in Tallahassee following
the dreams of industrialists the likes
of Hammy Disston, two cottonmouths
spitting drainage & dredging venom wherever
they slithered across the Sunshine State.
The hydroperiod hasn‘t been the same since.

Morning sunlight slipped through a stand
of misted slash pines, an abrupt end to the shower
& my elderly neighbor, still abed, dreamed
this improbable dream I had as I strained
to listen, drained my mug of campground coffee –
no time to lose attention, to stray from the gist of things.

So much has changed in the past century:
widespread muck, fresh saltwater intrusion
in ancient sweet aquifers, fewer than
one thousand snail kites left, pond apples
just about gone &, a number of years ago,
one of fifty-some remaining panthers was discovered
dead, from mercury concentrations in his liver, etc.
Trees are merely timber, animals are game
& the earth is only so much subsiding soil
for those rapacious sugar barons with such deep pockets.
Truth be told, I’m afraid
I won’t be back.  Don’t count
on seeing me again.  I’m all washed up,
all washed up….





*   *   * 




A seven-time Pushcart-Prize nominee and National Park Artist-in-Residence, Karla Linn Merrifield has had nearly 300 poems appear in dozens of journals and anthologies. She has eight books to her credit, the newest of which are The Ice Decides: Poems of Antarctica (Finishing Line Press) and Liberty’s Vigil, The Occupy Anthology: 99 Poets among the 99%, which she co-edited for FootHills Publishing. Forthcoming from Salmon Poetry is Athabaskan Fractal and Other Poems of the Far North. Her Godwit: Poems of Canada (FootHills) received the 2009 Eiseman Award for Poetry and she recently received the Dr. Sherwin Howard Award for the best poetry published in Weber - The Contemporary West in 2012. She is assistant editor and poetry book reviewer for The Centrifugal Eye (www.centrifugaleye.com). Visit her blog, Vagabond Poet, at http://karlalinn.blogspot.com.