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RACHEL CARSON

One hundred years ago, on May 27, 1907, Rachel Carson was born in the small farming town of Springdale, Pennsylvania. She would go on to spearhead the contemporary environmental movement, publishing influential books that combined a deep reverence for the natural world with an acute awareness of man's place in it—and of his potential to upset its delicate ecological balance. "Rachel Carson was one of the reasons why I became so conscious of the environment," Al Gore has written. "Her picture hangs on my office wall among those of the political leaders, the presidents, and the prime ministers... Carson has had as much or more effect on me than any of them, and perhaps all of them together."

To honor Rachel Carson on the centennial of her birth, there will be birthday parties in public parks and other green spaces across the country, and conferences at Yale, Johns Hopkins, Carnegie Mellon, the Kennedy Presidential Library, and numerous other venues, all in tribute to her extraordinary legacy. For our part, Penguin Classics is proud to publish a centennial edition of Under the Sea-Wind, Carson's first book and her personal favorite. Featuring a new introduction by Carson's biographer, Linda Lear, and the beautiful line drawings by Howard Frech from the very first edition of the book (1941), Under the Sea-Wind takes you beneath the waves with the same kind of intimacy and wonder that made the documentaries Winged Migration and March of the Penguins such masterpieces of nature-immersion.

This is an appreciation of Under the Sea-Wind offered by Linda Lear, author of Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature, as well as the just-released biography Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature.


  How often do you wonder what's swimming around you when you take a dip in the ocean during a day at the beach? What are these unseen creatures? Where do they live? Where do they go at night? There is a new world undersea, and in Under the Sea-Wind, Rachel Carson gives us all we need in order to participate in it.

Under the Sea-Wind, Carson's first and favorite of all her books, is a tour beneath the surface of the ocean, a look at life that has continued undisturbed across geologic time, a taste of the mysteries that are nearly as eternal as earthly life can be. There are no humans in this drama, only the life-embracing patterns woven into time and season, which sustain a vital web of interrelationships. The ocean itself is the central character in Carson's drama, and it controls the destiny of all the creatures whose existence sustains the fabric of life under or above it.

Her daring sojourners are ordinary: a brave shore bird, a mackerel, and an eel, each going about its life like the rest of us, drawn by unseen forces set in place at the beginning of beginnings. The common sea birds, to whom we give only an occasional nod, travel thousands of miles back to their breeding ground in the Arctic before we recognize them again on our eastern beaches, yet we know nothing of their arduous migration. Eels move from the Sargasso Sea in silent thrall to an instinct we have yet to understand. They swim up the rivers and creeks of the east coast, they breed, and they return to the deep to die. We have no knowledge of their final journey back to their mysterious ocean home. Although the meaning of such adventures eludes us, Carson reveals their essential place in the drama.

The tapestry of land, sky, and ocean that Carson weaves in Under the Sea-Wind marks the beginning of her lifelong effort to teach us to observe the web of life, to revere it, to marvel at its mysterious origins, and to care passionately for its survival. In Under the Sea-Wind I feel the breath of the sea across the dunes. I hear the murmur of tides rushing over coral reefs in waters I will never know. I often reread these pages, not only because I am Carson's biographer, but also to sustain my belief that there will be a tomorrow as full of wonder as today. As we celebrate the centenary of the most influential nature writer of the twentieth century, I invite you to embrace Carson's vision of life, in air, sea, and shore. Dare to go "under the sea-wind" and see for yourself.

—Linda Lear

Under the Sea-Wind
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