Lost Woods: The Discovered Writing of Rachel Carson - Rachel Carson, Linda Lear (1999)
Chapter 31. Letter to Dorothy Freeman
CARSON SPENT what would be her final summer in Maine, hoping for more time to say all the things she wanted to say, but knowing it was an ephemeral hope. She planned a book on evolutionary biology, but most of all she wanted time to expand her 1956 article “Help Your Child to Wonder” into a book on the value and necessity of a sense of wonder in the modern world.
Although she rarely spoke of her illness, she was able to write about death through her understanding of the rhythms, enduring cycles, and patterns of the natural world.
This letter, written to her friend Dorothy Freeman, after the two had spent a sunlit morning at Newagen, one of their favorite places along the shore of the Sheepscot, was intended to acknowledge her approaching death and to comfort her friend. With Freeman’s permission it was read by the Reverend Duncan Howlett at the memorial service Carson asked him to hold after her death. Rachel Carson died at her home in Maryland of cancer and heart disease on April 14, 1964, at the age of fifty-six.
This is a postscript to our morning at Newagen, something I think I can write better than say. For me it was one of the loveliest of the summer’s hours, and all the details will remain in my memory: that blue September sky, the sounds of wind in the spruces and surf on the rocks, the gulls busy with their foraging, alighting with deliberate grace, the distant views of Griffiths Head and Todd Point, today so clearly etched, though once half seen in swirling fog. But most of all I shall remember the Monarchs, that unhurried westward drift of one small winged form after another, each drawn by some invisible force. We talked a little about their migration, their life history. Did they return? We thought not; for most, at least, this was the closing journey of their lives.
But it occurred to me this afternoon, remembering, that it had been a happy spectacle, that we had felt no sadness when we spoke of the fact that there would be no return. And rightly – for when any living thing has come to the end of its life cycle we accept that end as natural.
For the Monarch, that cycle is measured in a known span of months. For ourselves, the measure is something else, the span of which we cannot know. But the thought is the same: when that intangible cycle has run its course it is a natural and not unhappy thing that a life comes to its end.
That is what those brightly fluttering bits of life taught me this morning. I found a deep happiness in it – so, I hope, may you. Thank you for this morning.