I’ve been fantasizing lately about a hero, someone out of the past who could come back and save us from ourselves. There seemed an obvious choice for the role. I gave her superpowers. And imagined that if she did come back, she’d be swearing her head off. Not her usual style, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Screw this, Rachel Carson would say.
I see her, in pearls and a twin set, wearing a nice pair of slacks (better suited than a skirt for action) and a cape. (Because all traditional superheroes have capes.)
Screw this, she says, and tips over the table at the Monsanto board meeting. Or maybe it’s Dupont. Either way, the suited riffraff scatter like dried-up leaves. Like something that fell off a tree that died when their heavily marketed formula (which made them millions) was sprayed around it. You know—to keep the weeds down.
Her work at the board meeting done, Rachel takes to the air, flying with her cape streaming out behind her, to get to the home and garden center. Once there she commandeers a John Deere and rides it down the aisles, knocking all kinds of chemical crap off the shelves with a broomstick. (She could just fly down the aisles—but on the mower, she’s slower, and this gives people a chance to think. Think, god damn it. That’s what Rachel’s saying, in my daydream.)
When she’s hit a few Lowes stores and Home Depots (multi-city tour), she’s off to the fossil-fuel company. You can fill in the blank here—pick any one of several that fight with tooth, nail and huge sums of money to oppose the kinds of energy that don’t cause disasters or heat up the planet. (Sure it’s a cliché, but like Rachel says: Ever hear of a solar spill?) Their latest pipeline faced a lot of opposition for running through culturally and environmentally sensitive lands, but eventually politicians caved and protesters were forcibly removed. After the tear gas cleared the pipeline was completed; it leaked almost immediately.
Rachel swoops in for a landing at corporate headquarters, flies up the stairs and bursts into the CEO’s office. Takes him captive, then nabs herself a couple of VPs too, and a lobbyist on her way out—ropes ‘em up with her strand of pearls, which it turns out is a lot longer than it looks and works the same as Wonder Woman’s lasso. She takes them out to the spill, to the big cesspool of petroleum, mucking up someone’s neighborhood, killing flora and fauna, fouling the stream where kids are used to playing. Then she amuses herself for a while, rubbing their faces in it. Literally. To be fair, she is trying to make a point, which is: It doesn’t feel good, to be swimming in crude.
While she’s dunking execs in spillage, she thinks of another thing that really pisses her off: Seeds. She wrote a whole damn book—while she was dying of cancer, no less—about how the chemicals used to combat insects were killing everything and everybody in the process, and fifty years later, what did those jackasses do? They took over seeds. Seeds that are genetically engineered to tolerate their brand of herbicide (no guarantee for the fields next door). Seeds that are patented, so the farmers have to pay for them year after year and can’t just reuse them. She puts it on her “to do” list: Straighten out this seed bullshit.
Then she’s off to Washington, to the EPA (which some credit, some blame, her work for creating), where the foxes have managed to put themselves in charge of the hen house. Rachel storms into a meeting, grabs a couple of wolves in beauracrats’ clothing, and knocks their heads together like Moe used to do with Larry and Curly. Then she takes away their signing pens, along with their health insurance and their salaries. “You can have it all back when you learn the meaning of public service,” she says. “And environmental protection. That’s P-R-O-T-E-C-T-I-O-N,” she says, before opening a window and with a running start, flying away.
Even superheroes get tired sometimes. She heads home, to take a breather. After a nap she goes into her study, where she wrote Silent Spring and The Sea Around Us. She’s been considering writing a sequel to that one—but she hasn’t been able to get past the first line: “There’s a gyre of plastic in the Pacific stretching thousands of miles…” She takes off her cape, sits down at her typewriter. Looks out the window at the leaves that haven’t turned yet (warmest autumn on record). She sits for a while but the words just won’t come.
Shit, Rachel Carson thinks.
Wearily, she gets up and puts on her cape again. Heads out to another board meeting or a session of Congress. On the way she happens to spot my neighbor, spraying something on some unsightly beach grass growing along our shoreline. She swoops down and grabs the tank out of the woman’s hands.
Screw this, Rachel Carson says.
Of course, I know the real Rachel Carson would have done no such thing.
The real Rachel Carson was quiet, scholarly, soft-spoken and even-tempered. Also determined, and indefatigable. She would have adjusted her wig (the one she wore after her hair fell out from the cancer treatment) and got back to work.
She didn’t have superpowers.
Or maybe, in a way, she did.
If we’re going to make a difference, sometimes we all have to find a bit of superpower within.