Discover It, Share It and Pass It On: Nature – A Sense of Wonder

By Kathy Sykes

My own guiding purpose was to portray the subject of my sea profile with fidelity and understanding. All else was secondary. I did not stop to consider whether I was doing it scientifically or poetically; I was writing as the subject demanded.

These were the words stated by Rachel Carson during her acceptance speech for the National Book Award she received in March 1952, for her work The Sea Around Us. Carson was a pioneer of the environmental movement and an inspiration to generations of women and men who have grown to appreciate the natural world.

Rachel Carson was an inspiration to my mother, Marguerite, a chemist who was one of a few women who worked at USDA’s Forest Products Research Laboratory in Wisconsin. Prominent on mom’s bookshelf were a series of books by Carson: The Sea Around Us, Sense of Wonder, and Silent Spring.

Carson wrote eloquent, beautiful prose. What mom read, she wanted to share with her children and later her grandchildren. Growing up in Madison was fun filled with long walks to parks and lakes including the Arboretum, the duck pond, Cherokee Marsh, and Picnic Point.

Our summer vacations were spent hiking nature paths with waterfalls, fishing for trout, and skipping flat water- smoothed stones along the shores of Lake Superior or some other smaller northern Wisconsin lake. During these hikes, mom taught us to recognize the first flowers of spring–hepaticas, spring beauties and marsh marigolds. We could distinguish among the songs of the red-winged blackbirds, cardinals, bluejays and the whip-o-wills.

Rachel Carson’s last work A Sense of Wonder is the inspiration of the EPA’s Rachel Carson intergenerational contest. She wrote “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”

Our contest is to continue in Rachel’s footsteps–to discover and rediscover with someone older or younger the joy and excitement of the world we live in and have nature serve as an inspiration for a creative work, a poem, an essay, a photo or even a dance.

About the author: Kathy Sykes began working for the U.S. EPA in 1998. Since 2002, she has served as the Senior Advisor for the Aging Initiative and launched the Rachel Carson Contest in 2007.

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