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Silent Spring, and Summer, and Fall… – Rachel Carson: Hearing Loss Sufferer

Grand Niece, Twice Removed, of Environmental Icon Pens Memoir

Carson Watching God

Carson studied the natural world most of her life. Here she is making field observations of God for a paper she was never able to complete.

In honor of the 41st Earth Day, the 47th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s death, and the 1o4th year since her birth, a descendant of the famed environmentalist has published a book that the author hopes, “will help people see my favorite Great Aunt, twice removed, in a new light.” Speak louder please: Remembering Auntie Rachel, Warwick Vanity Press, recounts the memories of a small child who occasionally ran into Rachel Carson at family gatherings. The author, Rebecca Trollop, now 57, of Springdale, Pa, remarked at a recent event to promote her self-published work, “I went through my teen years in the 60’s so my memories are a bit hazy after all this time. But the feelings are as strong as ever”.

Ms. Trollop remembers fondly her then aging Aunt, in a series of loosely connected semi-biographical essays. “I was only 5 or 6 at the time but I could tell my Aunty Rach, that’s what she told us to call her, was pretty special. Folks were always coming about the house, protesting her latest book or throwing pesticide laced rocks through the windows. For a little kid it was very exciting. We just loved all the attention.”

Carson listening

Carson listened attentively whenever others spoke. Unfortunately she was unable to hear a damn thing.

“One of the things I can still hear to this day,” mused the author, “is all the shouting whenever Aunty would come to visit. See she was a bit hard of hearing. Well deaf as a post really. So if someone wanted to speak with Aunty they had to shout. I was a bit shy as a child so I had a hard time getting myself heard. I never could get what I wanted from Aunty at Christmas because the poor girl couldn’t make hide nor hair out of what I was saying. It was my fault really. But how was I to know? I was only a little girl. The funny thing was that Aunty would never admit to being hard of hearing. She would just swing her walking stick about and shout at us children things like, ‘Speak up you little wretches. How do you expect to get anyone’s attention in life if you all you can do is whisper?’ If only they’d had the miracle ear back then.”

Carson biographers have often speculated on the source of her magnum opus, Silent Spring. Some have concluded that Miss Carson was likely suffering from progressive hearing loss but, being unwilling to recognize the problem, believed the world was actually becoming quieter. And as she spent much of her time in the natural world she concluded that natural sounds, such as bird song, were disappearing at an alarming rate. “Miss Carson obviously suffered from a malady common to many aging people: refusing to admit to hearing loss. She was strong willed after all. All of us know similar people who respond to the simplest of queries with a ‘what was that’ or ‘sorry I wasn’t paying attention, could you repeat that’ or ‘I’m not deaf dammit, you just mumble.’ Gets a bit annoying after a while really but what is one to do? Miss Carson was no different. She, unlike many of us, was able to turn her malady into a genius that has inspired environmentalist’s everywhere. Made some tasty lemonade out of her lemons.”

Listening for fish

Carson grew increasingly frustrated that she could no longer hear the fish.

Gale Crispcion of the Carson Foundation, commenting on Miss Carson’s alleged hearing issues, said, “Though Miss Carson may have suffered from hearing loss, and I am not saying she did, it in no way takes away from her lifetime of achievements promoting environmental protection even if it was, and I’m not saying it was, based on an erroneous interpretation of the world around her. Let me be clear, and I think I am probably quoting Miss Carson here: Pesticides suck. Always have. Always will.”

Excerpts from the Book:

Some of our favorite times together were when Aunty Rach would gather us wee ones about her and shout at us stories from her youth. These stories eventually turned into her first book, The Sea Around Us. It’s what put her on the literary map. They were stories of her days battling pirates on the high seas.  When she was really in the mood she would pull out her old captain’s uniform and bark orders at us to swab the deck and keel haul the family poodle. We couldn’t get enough. She apparently was quite the swashbuckler as a lass.

Carson subduing a Pirate

A rare photo of Carson demonstrating, with the help of a colleague, how she prevented a dangerous pirate from attacking Canada.

And then there was the time we were sitting on the front porch listening to the peepers: a darling little frog that sings its song of love every spring. It was a warm night in April as I recall. No one knew where Aunty was but we figured she must be out mucking about looking for snails or something. Suddenly we hear screaming from down the lane and turn to see Aunty staggering up the walkway. She was sobbing, pulling at her hair and obviously very distressed.  She kept repeating “they’ve killed them, they’ve killed them all. Those bastards. The peepers are all dead.” We tried to console her but not only could she not hear the peepers, she couldn’t hear a single word we were saying. Luckily Dr. Wilson still made house calls in those days and came right by. He gave her something to help her sleep and by the next morning Aunty had completely forgotten the whole episode. It was like it never happened. That lady had some pluck.


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