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An Earth Day feature, part 2.
The Incline

🕊️Rachel Carson’s grit, grace, and gift of the written word

An Earth Day feature, part 2.

Happy Friday, Pittsburgh!

For today’s edition of The Incline, we’re continuing our two-part Earth Day feature honoring influential environmentalist Rachel Carson and her connection to Pittsburgh.

You can read part one of our story here. Plus, we have a weekend guide just for our members down below. Want in on the fun? Become an Incline Insider today to get your specially curated guide on things to do, eat, and see in the ‘Burgh.

Let’s continue the story.

📸: Rachel Carson holding spring flowers in her hometown of Springdale, Pa, 1910. Photo courtesy of Chatham Archives, public domain.

Carson had a special spot outside the city where she liked to study nature.

📸: Course Run Nature Reserve, photo courtesy of Molly Tighe.

Carson could often be found studying wildlife in a 22-acre valley in Hampton Township about 30 minutes outside of the city. Today, the spot is known as the Course Run Nature Reserve.

During her college days, she took the Butler Electric RR from Pittsburgh to examine the biological diversity of the valley’s flora and fauna.

At the time, the location wasn’t as esteemed as it is today. Now it’s one of the few spots listed as an “exceptional” level in the Allegheny County Natural Heritage Inventory.

The reserve’s website shares a revealing 1969 quote from Roger Latham, an outdoor writer for the Pittsburgh Press. 

“In the valley bottom spring wildflowers reach their peak abundance and fullest variety. Trillium grow in such profusion as to form carpets of flowers in some places. Mixed with these in early spring are dog-toothed violets, hepaticas, spring beauties, dutchmen’s breeches and others.”… “This unique and valuable acreage in Allegheny County, where the advances of civilization have all but eliminated natural areas, is well worth preserving for future generations.”

A 33-mile trail passing through the valley was renamed in Carson’s honor in 1975. While this information wasn’t available in the archives, Chatham archivist Molly Tighe shared her knowledge and even a photo from a visit she made there — that’s it right above!

Her achievements were celebrated by Chatham, but less so by the steel industry city.

📸: A letter of congratulations to Carson from Chatham’s president, Edward D. Eddy Jr. Photo courtesy of Chatham archives.

Carson’s letter correspondence with Chatham’s president shows that the school took pride in its alumna’s accomplishments, like when she won the Audubon Medal or was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1952. (And as anyone who studies or teaches at Chatham will tell you, that pride is still present at the college today.)

See the note above where Edward D. Eddy Jr. said: “If you keep winning these honors, I’ll be spending all of my days in writing notes of congratulation.”

Although it was where Carson called home, Pittsburgh was still a steel industry town and had a much chillier reception to her work. For that matter, many in the United States took issue with her writing: At the height of the Cold War in 1961, opponents of “Silent Spring” attacked Carson personally and accused her of being radical, unscientific, or hysterical.

Controversy over Carson’s work pervades in Pittsburgh even today. Patricia DeMarco recently served as the director of the Rachel Carson Homestead in Springdale; she said that people were still telling her that her organization’s namesake was responsible for the crash of the steel industry.

“They looked at preserving the environment as the enemy of jobs,” DeMarco said. “The only way we are going to have a future is if we make decisions that support our life support systems first. The key thing that Rachel Carson gave us is our sense of obligation to the next generation; thinking in terms of the laws of nature, which are not negotiable, and living with them instead of having control over them.”

In her last days, she kept her illness hidden, but it was hidden from her too.

📸: A visit cancelation letter from Carson to Chatham’s president in 1964. Photo courtesy of Chatham archives.

Carson cited “arthritic difficulties” in a letter she sent to Eddy canceling a planned 1964 visit to Chatham. Sadly, her true ailment was much more serious. 

Eddy wrote back, “There will be another day and another year when you can come to Chatham.” 

But there wouldn’t be.

A year earlier in June 1963, Carson delivered a statement before Congress raising awareness of the environmental hazards of pesticides as well as their link to diseases like cancer. Below is an excerpt from her speech:

“The contamination of the environment with harmful substances is one of the major problems of modern life. The world of air and water and soil supports not only the hundreds of thousands of species of animals and plants, it supports man himself. In the past we have often chosen to ignore this fact. Now we are receiving sharp reminders that our heedless and destructive acts enter into the vast cycles of the earth and in time return to bring hazard to ourselves.”

Photographs taken during her speech show that Carson was wearing a wig to conceal her ill health. She had breast cancer, and was dying of the very disease she was fighting to prove could be traced back to these harmful chemicals. 

But even she wasn’t aware how dire her diagnosis was. She’d previously had a breast tumor removed in 1950, and there was no further treatment suggested at the time.

“Because she was a woman and wasn’t married, her doctors wouldn’t talk to her about it,” DeMarco said. “She learned too late. She already had stage 4 metastatic cancer.”

Not only did Carson square off against the industrial economic powers of the time, but she had to fight medical professionals simply to learn the truth about her illness. But it’s not a mystery why she kept this information secret from the public — if the chemical industry found out, they would use her illness to question her scientific objectivity. In the hopes of manifesting a better tomorrow for others, she kept her own battles at bay.

And a better tomorrow did come: Because of Carson, generations of scientists, environmentalists, and writers were inspired to advocate for Mother Earth — much like Patricia DeMarco.

“I would like to see Pittsburgh recognize her ethic of care for the next generation. She was so inclusive in her love and understanding that we are all connected and our livelihood depends on the living Earth,” DeMarco said. “We have so much to learn from her.”

Missed yesterday’s edition? Read part 1 and 2 of Rachel Carson’s Earth Day feature here.

🎉 A giveaway for you

Gopuff has revolutionized the store run. With a typical delivery time of half an hour or less and an affordable flat delivery rate of $1.95, getting essentials delivered just got a whole lot easier. 

From Claws for Friday night to Advil for Saturday morning, GoPuff provides all of your daily essentials and local favorites. This week, one lucky reader will win a $100 in GoPuff credit to spend on food, snacks, and everyday essentials. New customers who sign up in Pittsburgh can add a complimentary pint of ice cream to their cart. 

Enter here for your chance to win–good luck!

Yinz got weekend plans?

Help us help you

Today our members — a.k.a. Incline Insiders — are getting a weekend guide specially curated by us! It includes tips on deals for indie book story day, outdoor Earth "Month" events, and a very-Pittsburgh sweet treat that just hit the shelves, or coolers, rather. Don’t miss out on next week’s edition.

Get in on the fun by becoming an Incline Insider today.

Tomorrow

🎥 Learn how to get your 15 minutes (or more!) of fame with Prime Stage Theatre's Innovative Master Class on how to get in front of a talent agent(Online)

🌎 Watch a special Earth Day screening of the film "The Power of One Voice: A 50-Year Perspective on the Life of Rachel Carson" (Online)

🐽 Help Pigsburgh Squealers pig rescue at Piggy Spring Fling, a Pittsburgh Vegan Society Fundraiser (Online)

🥾 Combine history, music and nature at Early Pittsburgh History Hike in Duquesne Heights (Duquesne Heights)

♻️ Learn how "recycle right" at a webinar with Pennsylvania Resources Council that includes resources for blue bin recycling, as well as electronics, chemicals, tires, yard debris and other materials (Online)

Sunday

🥾 Celebrate famous playwright August Wilson and his legacy with Hill Hike, a city walk through the park.(Hill District)

🌱 Learn to identify and forage plants at a Wild Edible Hike with Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy (Point Breeze)

One more thing …

While it was impossible to encapsulate the full breadth off Carson’s accomplishments and writings in just two newsletters (Seriously, she did a lot!), I hope this feature inspires you to dig a little deeper and read some of the work by this amazing woman. Her life and achievements were inspired by the Pittsburgh hills and rivers we love so dearly: Who knows what the city — or the country, for that matter — would look like today had it not been for her grit, grace, and gift of the written word.

Have a beautiful weekend! See you back here on Tuesday.

 Francesca at The Incline

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