Posted: July 16, 2007 in Stories

I don’t guess I had ever heard of (or noticed) Rachel Carson before, but I now know that she had a stamp named after her back when I was eleven years old. She was a scientist, ecologist, and writer who, among her many accomplishments, wrote a book that shocked the United States into banning DDT and other harmful pesticides.

Tom from New York sends me encouraging emails from time to time. Though we’ve never met in person, he is a valued friend. He read some of my Katrina e-book this past weekend, and my section on noticing the beauty of the stars in the first days after the hurricane reminded him of a section from Rachel Carson’s book, The Sense of Wonder. I’ve now learned that this book encouraged adults to take kids to wild nature and expand their imagination by introducing them to the wonderful variety in this world. Sounds like a book worth reading to me…

Anyway, I just thought I’d start your week the way mine started: with an insightful selection from Rachel Carson. Enjoy.

Exploring nature with your child is largely a matter of becoming receptive to what lies all around you. It is learning again to use your eyes, ears, nostrils and finger tips, opening up the disused channels of sensory impression.For most of us, knowledge of our world comes largely through sight, yet we look about with such unseeing eyes that we are partially blind. One way to open your eyes to unnoticed beauty is to ask yourself, “What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?”

I remember a summer night when such a thought came to me strongly. It was a clear night without a moon. With a friend, I went out on a flat headland that is almost a tiny island, being all but surrounded by the waters of the bay. There the horizons are remote and distant rims on the edge of space. We lay and looked up at the night sky and the millions of stars that blazed in the darkness. The night was so still that we could hear the buoy on the ledges out beyond the mouth of the bay. Once or twice a word spoken by someone on the far shore was carried across in the clear air. A few lights burned in cottages. Otherwise, there was no reminder of other human life; my companion and I were alone with the stars. I have never seen them more beautiful: the misty river of the Milky Way flowing across the sky, the patterns of the constellations standing out bright and clear, a blazing planet low on the horizon. Once or twice a meteor burned its way into the earth’s atmosphere.

It occurred to me that if this were a sight that could be seen only once in a century or even once in a human generation, this little headland would be thronged with spectators. But it can be seen many scores of nights in any year, and so the lights burned in the cottages and the inhabitants probably gave not a thought to the beauty overhead; and because they could see it almost any night, perhaps they will never see it.

An experience like that, when one’s thoughts are released to roam through the lonely spaces of the universe, can be shared with a child even if you don’t know the name of a single star. You can still drink in the beauty, and think and wonder at the meaning of what you see.

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