While writing about nature, Rachel Carson drew from a literature background as well as a scientific one, merging prose with science to form evocative and poetic portraits of the environment. This formula serves as a model for subsequent generations of environmental writers, scientists and artists. 

A half century after The Sea Around Us and Silent Spring, our collaborative endeavor Adfreeze Project follows in Carson's wake. As an interdisciplinary team, we approach our research on the Arctic from the fields of sound and visual art. Building a series of multidisciplinary works to form a portrait of the Svalbard archipelago, we are creating pieces in a variety of formats which include video installation, musical performance, travelogue journal, and drawing. Carson began her writing career with appreciation of nature, turning to warning in subsequent work. Adfreeze reflects the critical moment she foreshadowed, poignantly described by Bill McKibben as "the end of Nature," this point in natural history when human activity has left an imprint on every location on the planet.

There are still many wild and remote natural places, but human culture now intersects in some small (and less small) way with each of them. Adfreeze Project is a window revealing the character and natural state of Svalbard at this moment in time.

One work in the series, Ice Notes, is a collection of writing, photography, sound, and drawing, offering a glimpse of several locations in this remote Arctic region.

                  – Oona Stern and Cheryl E Leonard

To view the project, visit:

Oona Stern is a visual artist whose installations create a backdrop to daily experience - art into life. She works with a range of materials from advertising posters, to construction material, to audio and video, bridging the gap between nature and culture, and bringing the outdoors to urban and private spaces. Stern has a BA from Cornell and an MFA from the School of Visual Arts. Public installations include "the sound of grass growing", a multimedia work at Bloomberg NY, and "meander", a landscaped 'drawing', in Huntington, NY and Bellevue, WA. deDomination, a poster project, was installed in the NYC subway in 2008. Stern's 2011 solo show, the reluctant naturalist, presented a survey of her work based on Antarctica. She is the recipient of grants from Pollock-Krasner, NYFA, Artists' Space, and Manhattan Community Arts Fund, and the NSF's Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. Stern lives in Brooklyn, NY.
Cheryl E. Leonard is a composer, performer and instrument builder. She investigates sounds, structures and objects from the natural world, creating works that express wild realms and our relationships to them. She uses microphones to uncover voices hidden within natural materials, and crafts musical works highlighting these sounds. Leonard holds a BA from Hampshire and an MA from Mills. Her music has been performed worldwide, and her compositions for natural-object instruments have been featured on television and in the documentary feature Noisy People. She is the recipient of grants from the NSF’s Antarctic Artists and Writers Program, ASCAP, American Composers Forum and Meet the Composer. She has been awarded commissions include works for Kronos Quartet, Illuminated Corridor and Michael Straus, and residencies at Oberpfälzer Künstlerhaus, Djerassi, Villa Montalvo, and the Arctic Circle. Her music is available from NEXMAP, Ubuibi, Pax, Apraxia, 23 Five, The Lab and Great Hoary Marmot Music. Leonard Lives in San Francisco, CA.

Rachel Louise Carson was born on May 27, 1907 in Springdale, Pennsylvania – in the lower Allegheny Valley, where her mother took her on excursions into the countryside. As a young girl, she explored the woods and streams, learned the names of birds, insects and flowers, and wrote stories about her experiences. She went on to study science and continued to write highly successful books about the natural world for the rest of her life.

The spring of 1958 marked a turning point in Rachel Carson’s writing and entire life. Her friend, Olga Owens Huckins, wrote to her about the birds dying in her sanctuary. It had been bombarded with the aerial spraying of DDT, not uncommon in an era of “better living through chemicals.” The bomb had been dropped in Japan and atmospheric testing of atomic and hydrogen bombs became an unremarkable commonplace. “Dominion over nature” began in the back yard and on the home front. The chemicals in the water, soil and air and the fruit on the table became synonymous with progress. We were to believe that the fruit would not be there if not for the chemicals.

Rachel Carson had always been a conservationist, and she immediately embarked on a meticulous research project on the effects of DDT. And in doing so, she uncovered a labyrinth of horrors of pesticide poisoning more deadly than she had imagined. After this discovery, as biographer Mark Hamilton Lytle wrote, Carson "quite self-consciously decided to write a book calling into question the paradigm of scientific progress that defined postwar American culture." That book was called Silent Spring.

The Monsanto Chemical Company immediately published a parody of Silent Spring.

She was called “a nature fanatic.”

She was called “a communist bent on destroying the world’s food supply.”
She was called “an eccentric spinster who knows nothing about the welfare of future generations.”

Company “scientific experts” and politicians whose wealth and livelihoods depended upon the everlasting honeymoon between science and industry denounced the book. Many had never read it.  

Rachel Carson went on to write other books, adopt her nephew when his mother died, and give interviews although she was dying of breast cancer. She died in April of 1964, her close friend, Dorothy Freeman, at her side.

Take your child out on a still October night when there is little wind and find a quiet place away from traffic noises. Then stand very still and listen, projecting your consciousness up into the dark arch of the sky above you. Presently your ears will detect tiny wisps of sound…they are the voices of bird migrants, apparently keeping in touch by their calls with others of their kind scattered through the sky.
                 -Rachel Carson, Sense of Wonder

Since the publication of Silent Spring, there have been well known “silent springs” and many not so publicized.

The sedge is wither’d from the lake
And  no birds sing.
                                    -- John Keats

along the Rhine River…
in Bhopal…
from Chernobyl…
and in the garden and at the table, I hear Rachel’s voice.

Cheryl Parry
Earth Day 1995 

Being away from my wife, two children and four grandchildren while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sheki, Azerbaijan, was difficult physically, taxing mentally and an emotionally lonely experience.

One day I sought refuge by hiking to the top of a Caucasus mountain that I could see from my rented room window. On the way up, the colors and shapes of a microcosm of nature’s wonder appeared by the side of the path.

The mushrooms seemed to be popping as I watched and the rich brown of the leaves, orange of the trees, white of the emerging mushrooms and purple of the mature one made a more intense impact on my senses because of the green surroundings.

In Rachel Carson’s words, I realized that “Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth, are never alone or weary of life.” 

*    *    *    * 

Bio: Joel Robbins is a retired teacher, retired journalist, returned Peace Corps Volunteer and author of four Kindle books. He and his wife split their time between Syracuse, Indiana, and Nokomis, Florida.

mushrooms -- photograph by Joel Robbins
Robbins took this photograph in 2008 while a Peace Corps volunteer (Khan Yaylaq Mountain, the Caucasus Mountains, Azerbaijan).
A woman whom many consider to be a founder of America’s environmental movement, and an advocate for sustainability, Rachel Carson began as a precocious 8-year-old Pennsylvania farm girl, writing stories of animals in settings not unlike those encountered on her family’s 65 acres.

Though always an avid and gifted writer, Rachel, by the age of 19, had switched her college major to biology. Her interests in animals, particularly marine creatures, stayed strong as she studied zoology and genetics, earning a master’s degree in zoology, then in 1936 becoming only the second U.S. Bureau of Fisheries’ female professional, an aquatic biologist.
Pacific Coast by Rick Zimmerman
12" x 18", watercolor on paper

After further years spent honing her writing skills on leaflets, promotional pieces, radio spots and articles for the Bureau as well as the popular periodicals and newspapers of the day, Rachel emerged in 1951 as a best-selling author with The Sea Around Us. Rounding out a marine trilogy with The Edge of the Sea and Under the Sea Wind, she became a very popular author.

But it was Silent Spring, published in 1962, which would seal her fame. For most of my fellow baby boomers, rising through high school in the latter 1960s, that book was our first exposure to such concepts as fragile ecosystems, habitat destruction, conservation, environmentalism, and industrial pollution.  
February Stream by Rick Zimmerman
12" x 16", watercolor on paper

Silent Spring grew from Rachel’s increased concern over synthetic pesticides and their potentially harmful effects on ecosystems. The book’s title, a reference to forests and orchards devoid of birds felled by poisons, became a metaphor for man’s potentially destructive impact on the natural world.

Succumbing to breast cancer at age 56 in the spring of 1964 — just two years after the publication of Silent Spring — Rachel Carson was unable to build upon that book’s success. However, with that manuscript alone, she had raised the awareness of countless Americans to the potential dangers of chemical pollution on our natural world. She had also, for the first time in popular literature, touched on many of the topics that would in coming decades concern environmentalists the world over: bioaccumulation of toxins; resistance to pesticides; invasive species; biotic pest control; and conflicted interests among industrial, chemical and agricultural companies.    

Rick Zimmerman is an architect and cartoonist located in northeast Ohio. Throughout his 30+ years in practice, ranging across 35 states, he has designed virtually every type of building, as well as numerous signs, exhibits, and large-scale graphics. 

This article originally appeared here. Rick Zimmerman has given permission for this article and images of his artwork to appear at silentspringat50.org.