The Sense of Wonder (Rachel Carson)

By , September 12, 2007 9:21 pm

For someone who is supposed to be “unplugged,” I seem to spend quite a bit of time flitting about on Amazon. We have no decent local bookstore (sorry “Bookworm”), and I love books. Even our local library is poorly stocked. So that is my excuse and I am sticking to it!

Anyhow, one of my happy Amazon finds one day was this lovely book: The Sense of Wonder, by Rachel Carson. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the book, although the description and reviews on Amazon made it sound wonderful.

The text is a republication of a 1956 essay by “ahead of her time” environmental writer Rachel Carson (Essay: “Help Your Child to Wonder,” Woman’s Home Companion magazine, July 1956). In this edition, her inspiring words are accompanied by gorgeous, and often unusual, nature photographs by Nick Kelsh. As the dust jacket flap says: “Kelsh’s camera is drawn to patterns in nature that all too often elude hurried adults…” which is the whole point of Rachel Carson’s essay.

This is a big book (111 pages), but much of it is photography. I was easily able to read the whole thing in bed one night before going to sleep (and believe me, I am so tired at the end of the day that I don’t usually last long, no matter how good the book).

Rachel Carson writes about helping children discover nature, and about rediscovering nature with a childlike sense of wonder as an adult. This wonderful essay is a compilation of Carson’s thoughts about experiencing the world of Maine’s rocky coast with her nephew Roger. As she says:

If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder…he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” (p.55)

Carson speaks much of “feeling” vs. “knowing,” exploring with the senses rather than the intellect. She expresses her philosophy in this wonderful image:

If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil.” (p.56)

Another all-too-true lesson from this book is that as adults, we tend not to see that which is available to us every day. We grown-ups lose ourselves in the artificial and mundane. We forget how to really observe and experience the world, and tend to take the nature around us for granted. Because we can see the stars almost every night, we never actually stop to take the opportunity to gaze at the stars! Just as when living near the Grand Canyon, for example, one never goes to visit it.

The next time you “see nature,” even if it is only a bird momentarily alighting on the railing of your city apartment balcony, Ms. Carson urges you to ask yourself:

“What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?” (p.67)

Relearn the observation of the natural world using all your senses. See the beauty and perfection, even in the tiniest of objects. Take a hike in the woods (or your local city park) equipped with only a magnifying glass and an eager child to see what beauty you can find.

I find this book to be so inspirational, every time I read it I want to immediately drop the laundry basket and rush outside with my children! Honestly, I could read it over and over again. It evokes in me the same feelings that I experienced while reading Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea(published in 1955). I simply can’t believe that these amazing women wrote these remarkable words fifty years ago.

There are many obvious differences between the two books, but deep down, they convey the same message and have the same peaceful and comforting “feel” about them. How interesting that they were written within one year of each other, both works taking place by the sea in New England, and both authored by extraordinary women. I wish I had a doctoral thesis to write (in all my free time) because I certainly see a fascinating one here.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to any parent, especially those of the Waldorf, Montessori, or home school persuasion. If you are like me, you will want to read it over and over again. If you are still not convinced, then check it out of the library and I bet that after a quick read you will be ready to invest in a hardcover version of your very own.

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7 Responses to “The Sense of Wonder (Rachel Carson)”

  1. CelticMommy says:

    I’m pretty sure that she is the same writer who wrote “Silent Spring” in the 60′s. If yes, it’s so sad… she died young (well, like 50-something). I read Silent Spring my first year in college– it’s one of the biggest reasons I’m an eco-chick.

    I’ll have to check this book (and the other one) out! I don’t think I’ve ever read it. Thanks for the tip! ~Hettie

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  2. Jenny says:

    This book sounds perfect for me! My library doesn’t have it, so I’m going to have to go ahead and buy it. And I LOVED Gifts from the Sea! Thanks for the recommendation- I can’t wait to read it.

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  3. Mom Unplugged says:

    I hope you enjoy it Jenny, I think you will!

    Hettie- You are correct that Rachel Carson was the author of “Silent Spring.” By the way, there is now a new edition of “Silent Spring” with an introduction by Al Gore.

    Rachel Carson died in 1964 at only age 56 after a long battle with cancer. How sad! It sounds like she was a remarkable woman!

    According to the introduction to “The Sense of Wonder,” Carson planned on expanding the original essay into a book by adding other observations of nature and thoughts on the subject of experiencing nature. However, she became sidetracked by the controversy surrounding “Silent Spring” and died before having a chance to expand “The Sense of Wonder.”

    “The Sense of Wonder” was first published in book form (but of course contained just the text of the original essay, without augmentation) after her death in 1965.

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  4. Jen says:

    It pains me that I no longer read…sigh…

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  5. Andamom says:

    Thanks for the book recommendations… I’ve intended to read Rachel Carson’s books for quite awhile but haven’t had the chance. As Celtic Mommy said — she’s also the author of Silent Spring which forever changed the way that many people feel about environmentalism — perhaps even truly creating the movement.

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  6. [...] yourself, I suggest reading Rachel Carson’s book The Sense of Wonder. Read my review of it here. Also, you can check out the adult resources here, at the Hooked on Nature [...]

  7. [...] If you want, you can read my full post about this book here. [...]

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