Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson - Rachel Carson, Linda Lear (1999)

Part III

Chapter 22. The Lost Woods. A Letter to Curtis and Nellie Lee Bok


DEEPLY INVOLVED IN ORGANIZING the Maine Chapter of the Nature Conservancy in the summer of 1956, Carson had preservation issues much on her mind. Through her friendship with Curtis Bok, President Judge of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, whose family foundation had established the Mountain Lake Sanctuary in Mountain Lake, Florida, Carson had seen firsthand how effective personal philanthropy could be in saving beautiful places.

That fall Carson spent a windy morning exploring the shore and adjacent woods some distance north of her property. She and Dorothy Freeman called the area the “Lost Woods,” after the title of a favorite essay by the English naturalist H. M. Tomlinson. She wrote to Dorothy,

If only [the land] could be kept always just as it is! If ever I wish for money – lots of it – it is when I see something like that. [ … ] Just for fun, tell me what you think, and let’s pretend we could somehow create a sanctuary there, where people like us could go, as my friend said of the Bok Tower and grounds, “and walk about, and get what they need.” Well, if no one ever thinks of it, it certainly won’t happen; if someone does think hard enough, it just might.

Carson felt she now had a model, at least in spiritual intent, of how the Lost Woods might become a sanctuary, if she could just put enough money together from her future writing. Energized by this idea, Carson wrote to the Boks asking for advice on how to proceed.

Although the purchase price eventually proved beyond her means, Carson’s dream has been fulfilled, and a large part of the shore she loved is now protected through the efforts of the Boothbay Regional Land Trust.


[ … ] I think you understand this in me, even though we’ve had little chance to talk about it – my feeling for whatever beautiful and untouched oases of natural beauty remain in the world, my belief that such places can bring those who visit them the peace and spiritual refreshment that our “civilization” makes so difficult to achieve, and consequently my conviction that whenever and wherever possible, such places must be preserved. [ … ]

When a few years back and for the first time in my life, money somewhat beyond actual needs began to come to me through The Sea Around Us, I felt that, almost above all else, I wished some of the money might go, even in a modest way, to furthering these things I so deeply believe in. [ … ]

[The Lost Woods’] charm for me lies in its combination of rugged shore rising in rather steep cliffs for the most part, and cut in several places by deep chasms where the storm surf must create a magnificent scene. Even the peaceful high tides explore them and leave a watermark of rockweeds, barnacles and periwinkles. There is one unexpected, tiny beach where the shore makes a sharp curve and there is a protective jutting out of rocks. At another place, something about the angle of the shore and the set of the currents must have produced just the right conditions to trap the driftwood that comes down the bay, and there is an exciting jumble of logs and treetrunks and stumps of fantastic shape. I suppose there is about a mile of shoreline. Behind this is the wonderful, deep, dark woodland – a cathedral of stillness and peace. Spruce and fir, some hemlock, some pine, and hardwoods along the edges where a fire once destroyed what was there and set in action the restorative forces of nature. It is a living museum of mosses and lichens, which in some places form a carpet many inches deep. Rocks jut out here and there, as a flat floor where only lichens may grow, or rising in shadowed walls. For the most part the woods are dark and silent, but here and there one comes out into open areas of sunshine filled with woods smells. It is a treasure of a place to which I have lost my heart, completely. [ … ]

I have had many precious moments in these woods, and this past fall as I walked there the feeling became overwhelming that something must be done. I had just played a small part in helping to organize a Maine chapter of the Nature Conservancy. My rather nebulous plans of last fall had to do with trying to enlist aid from that quarter. But while the Conservancy can help, the real job has to be pretty well provided for. [ … ]