Today’s letter is sent to you on 14th April, the anniversary of the death of Rachel Carson. It can be found in More Letters of Note.
Published in 1962, Silent Spring is a pioneering book that alerted the public to the devastating harm being caused by fertilisers and pesticides—a hugely important exposé which, in the eyes of many, triggered the modern environmental movement. In 1960, as she worked on the book, its author marine biologist Rachel Carson was diagnosed with the cancer that would eventually, in 1964, take her life. Seven months before she died, with her health failing, Carson spent a morning at the coast with her dear friend Dorothy Freeman, watching the migration of monarch butterflies. That afternoon, she wrote her friend a letter.
September 10, 1963
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 the 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 an 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.