Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Making Tracks: Franklin Ginn

In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.

By Franklin Ginn

Failure lies behind the trappings of academic success: words unwritten, words sunk without trace, applications rejected, snubs both subtle and large.

The tracks I have left: my biography. Like many a small child, a small boy, I killed a lot of bugs. Warm afternoons swatting flies against windows; damp afternoons hunting for slugs, snails, whatever, doused in salt or crushed with bricks. Spiders, centipedes, or— my favorite—millipedes, trapped in empty plastic containers; let’s see who outlives who? I had a graveyard where I buried these dead. Twigs or sticks as memorials. I never killed birds or mammals. But I longed to find dead birds so I could bury them and mark their graves with lollipop sticks. Continue reading


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Making Tracks: Paula Ungar

In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.

“Walking the Line between Worlds”

By Paula Ungar

The first thing I wrote of which I have clear memory is a short verse from when I was nine years old. It was dedicated to a bird that got caught in my grandmother’s tenth-floor apartment in Bogotá, to which we had recently moved from the countryside. After several minutes of distressed wings flapping between armchairs and porcelain figurines, the pigeon managed to escape through a window, leaving a solitary feather behind. I stuck it next to my inspired writing—for some reason, I felt the need to attach proof to the volatile words.

We used to live in the countryside, in a small village near Bogotá. If I close my eyes I can still see the silhouette of El Majuy, the mountain that watched over us from behind our house, and the water falling in silver threads out of the watering can when I tended to the garden, changing the color of the earth around the coriander plants from dry grey to rich black. The smell of that black earth often comes back to me, along with the distant barking of the neighbors’ dogs and the awkward feeling on my hands of the legs of scarabs, which visited our porch on cold, rainy afternoons.

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Páramo de Sumapaz, Colombian Eastern Andes. Photo: Paula Ungar.

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Making Tracks: Yan Gao

In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.

“Watermarks on My Path”

By Yan Gao

When I started writing this article, my home city, Wuhan—situated at the confluence of the Yangzi and Han Rivers—was undergoing one of the largest floods in the city’s modern history. According to data from the Wuhan meteorological authorities, from 1 June to 6 July, cumulative rainfall in Wuhan’s main districts totaled 1087.2 mm, and the weekly precipitation in Wuhan from 30 June to 6 July reached a record-breaking 574.1 mm. The excessive water paralyzed the entire city: subway stations were submerged, roads were flooded, communities experienced severe drainage problems, there were citywide electricity cuts, and schools and workplaces closed. I was thousands of miles away, anxiously reading news reports. Continue reading


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Making Tracks: Robert Wilson

In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.

“Scholar Activist?”

By Robert Wilson 

My journey to the Rachel Carson Center began five years ago in a hot, stifling Washington, DC jail cell. I had been arrested earlier that day at the White House with sixty-nine other people demonstrating against the Keystone XL, a proposed pipeline that would carry oil derived from tar sands in Alberta to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. In recent years, similar fossil-fuel projects have come under increasing scrutiny by environmentalists who claimed further development of these carbon-rich tar sands would exacerbate global warming. Climatologist James Hansen went even further, saying the full exploitation of the tar sands would mean “game over for the climate.” In the wake of failed climate negotiations at the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, and with the US Congress unwilling to pass cap and trade legislation, it seemed environmentalists had little to lose by launching a civil disobedience campaign aimed at pressuring President Barack Obama to deny TransCanada, the pipeline builder, the permit to construct the pipeline. So, when the call came via email for people to assemble at the White House in the summer of 2011 to commit civil disobedience and risk arrest, I was ready to join them. Continue reading


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Making Tracks: Alan MacEachern

In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.

Albrecht and Alan at the Alte”

By Alan MacEachern

In retrospect, mine was the least dissolute of dissolute youths. But spending post-undergraduate time traveling around Europe, drinking cheap beer, and sharing in overloud barroom debates on the human condition was, I thought, the real deal. By night I slept in damp hostels; by day I wandered the art galleries trying to look complicated. But I did genuinely come to love some artists, whatever that means. In Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, it was Rembrandt. In Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, it was Pieter Breughel.  And in Munich’s Alte Pinakothek, it was Albrecht Altdorfer and, more particularly, his Saint George and the Dragon. As difficult as it is to trace inspiration, that painting, as much as anything or anyone, nudged me in the direction of environmental history.   Continue reading


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Making Tracks: Ernst Langthaler

In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.

By Ernst Langthaler

A Pile of Stones in the Midst of a Meadow”

I grew up in a remote village of about 2,000 inhabitants. It was situated at the northeastern fringe of the Austrian Limestone Alps and embedded in a mountainous landscape. Located in the main valley, the central settlement, the Markt (“market”), comprised public buildings (among them a Catholic church, a municipal office, and a primary school) and several dozen private houses belonging to nonagricultural dwellers—employees in the building and manufacturing industries and transport services, as well as small artisans and merchants. In the adjacent valleys and scattered along the mountains, medium-sized family farms dotted the landscape, vast stretches of grassland and forest between them.

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Figure 1: Central settlement and surrounding area of my home village with restored meadow (light brown area) after a landslide, ca. 2005. Photo: Ernst Langthaler.

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Making Tracks: Carrick Eggleston

In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.

“From Atoms to Energy Transitions”

By Carrick Eggleston

Scientists can really only deal with very simple things. They are squeamish about uncontrolled variables. As a scientist and an RCC fellow, I am in unfamiliar territory. Environmental history and humanities? I don’t speak the language! With the help of the stimulating and dynamic intellectual environment at RCC, I am learning. There is a kind of wall that scientists place between their work and “society,” “policy measures,” and “value judgments.” It is difficult and professionally risky to cross that wall—but there is, I think, a growing need to jump back and forth across such walls in order to address climate change and energy transitions.

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