Albuquerque actress will deliver presentation on 'Silent Spring' author at San Juan College
Presenter recalls Rachel Carson as determined, deeply private
FARMINGTON — When she was growing up, Albuquerque actress Ann Beyke used to spend her summers visiting her grandmother in rural central Pennsylvania. As she recalls, those annual visits were one of the highlights of her childhood, filled with explorations of the outdoors and lessons about appreciating nature.
So when Beyke began researching the life of legendary writer and marine biologist Rachel Carson for a Chautauqua presentation she was putting together several years ago, she was delighted to learn that the author of the seminal book "Silent Spring" had absorbed many of the same lessons and influences as a child growing up in western Pennsylvania.
She immediately felt a connection to Carson that helped her craft the presentation.
One of the first places Beyke presented her resulting "The Wonders of Nature: Rachel Carson" Chautauqua under the auspices of the New Mexico Humanities Council was in Farmington in 2013. She'll make a return engagement this weekend, delivering the show again.
Over the last six years, Beyke noted her presentation has only become more relevant. Carson's "Silent Spring," published in 1962, is widely credited with igniting the environmental movement in the United States and led to a ban on the use of DDT in America. Nearly 45 years after its publication, the editors of Discover Magazine named it one of the 25 greatest science books of all time, and President Jimmy Carter posthumously awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
During the question-and-answer sessions that typically follow her presentation, Beyke said she used to field a lot of specific queries about the use of pesticides or how other chemicals were impacting the environment. Now, Beyke said, most questioners seem to want her to get inside the skin of Carson and gauge her reaction to the numerous threats posed to wildlife by climate change and other factors.
Beyke is blunt in her assessment.
"I suspect she would be rolling over in her grave right now, especially with the changes to the Endangered Species Act that just happened," she said.
Beyke worries that Carson's role in awakening the American public to the threats posed to animals and the environment by human activity aren't as well remembered as they should be.
"That's … why I'm doing this program — to help people understand how important it is to be involved and the awareness of this," she said. "I want to get them interested in how they can be involved and make a change."
Carson was a remarkably determined woman, Beyke said, describing her diligence and dedication to her work while remaining caring and warm to those close to her — a side people rarely saw because of the author's extremely private nature. She said Carson also was strong enough to endure the fierce opposition to her work that arose in the early 1960s — something that lingers to this day in the form of misinformation campaigns designed to discredit her.
"She was under attack from chemical companies," Beyke said. "They called her a quack, they called her a communist. Her level of commitment to make sure this book was written and completed and out to the public was outstanding. She was a very tough woman."
Carson did all that — and defended her work — while undergoing cancer treatment. Weakened by her disease, she died of a heart attack in 1964, years before it would become apparent how much of a legacy she had created for herself as the face of the environmental movement.
Beyke said she would be hard pressed to name another individual who has come to personify that movement the way Carson once did, but she doesn't think that's necessarily a bad thing. These days, various organizations have chosen to concentrate on specific elements of global warming or threats to different species, she said, and that has resulted in a more broad-based and well-rounded approach that didn't exist in Carson's day.
But she does like to cite a decades-old manta that arose in the wake of the publication of "Silent Spring" that Beyke said remains important to remember.
"'Think globally, act locally' is something that still comes to mind for me," she said. "It may seem overwhelming to people to look at the big picture of climate change, but doing what you can on a local level is so critical."
Beyke's Chautauqua presentation takes place at 7 p.m. Sept. 6 at the Little Theatre on the San Juan College campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington. Admission is free. Call 505-566-3430.
Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org..