To begin our day, Sonny the husky and I hit the beach at dawn. We like to honor a sacred passage written by Evelyn Waugh: "In all the diurnal revolution these first fresh hours alone are untainted by man."
Completely true. Nothing provides me greater joy than rambling the beach with my old dog in the early morning, not seeing another human being, and occasionally encountering something magical in nature.
I relish these encounters, although I do not purposely seek them. But when they do occur, well, as C. G. Jung wrote, "If you said you had looked deeply into the eyes of an animal, people would say you were mad. But for the individual it is an uncanny and profound experience which contains absolute truth."
We were in luck. No hominid pollution, unless of course you count their sinister and ubiquitous plastic. I brought along a camera because every once in a great while, I luck out and document an encounter.
It was something like 6 a.m. Black coffee bounced in my travel mug distributed by a pharmaceutical giant to advertise a drug in the alleged interest of mental health. The weather for solitude was excellent: enveloping stratus clouds and a barely perceptible drizzle. I do love late summer on the Oregon Coast.
Sonny and I walked north for 20 minutes, crossed a stream, and then beheld an impressive array of driftwood forts, including one with a long, thin branch entrenched in the sand, pointing to the sky. Atop the branch was a large bird, an obvious raptor that I didn't initially recognize. Curious, I walked toward the bird expecting it to fly away. As I approached, I took photographs.
It did not fly away. I came to stand directly under the pole and identified the bird as an osprey.After watching it for five minutes, the bird lifted off. I could hear its wings flapping as it flew away.
Sonny and I returned to the beach later that morning. Again, no one around. I didn't have a camera. This time we headed south, and in the distance I saw two turkey vultures eating crabs at the wrack line. Then, they suddenly scattered. Odd, I thought, we were nowhere near them.
Something passed directly above me and I flinched. A bald eagle zoomed by, circled the crabs, circled back to me, soared some 50 feet over my head, then landed on the beach and tore into a crab. I sat down on the sand with Sonny and watched the eagle feast for 10 minutes until it flew away.
First an osprey, then a bald eagle. It wasn't even noon. How was this possible?
Her name is Rachel Carson, and in 1962 her landmark book, Silent Spring, launched the modern environmental movement by exposing the ecological disaster wrought by the indiscriminate aerial application of poisonous chemicals, namely DDT.
Silent Spring, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year and is well worth reading again, was an overnight bestseller around the world and attracted an astonishing variety of readers, including a president of the United States. John Kennedy called for a special panel to investigate the disastrous effects of pesticides on the natural world, particularly birds. Later, DDT was banned and — with the help of the Endangered Species Act and Richard Nixon, who signed this revolutionary piece of conservation legislation (as well as many others) into law in 1973 — the great raptors and the little songbirds eventually rebounded.
If this country had any wisdom, Rachel Carson would adorn a new unit of currency on blue paper. Without her writing Silent Spring, there probably wouldn't be a pelican, peregrine falcon, osprey, or bald eagle in the wild in the lower 48 states — and certainly not in Oregon, on the coast, on my local beach, where I am fortunate to magically encounter them for free with wonderful irregularity.
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Matt Love is the author/editor of 10 books about Oregon. He lives in South Beach and teaches creative writing and journalism at Newport High School. His latest book is Of Walking in Rain.
Books mentioned in this post
Matt Love is the author of Of Walking in Rain