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#19: A sense of wonder

The Sense of Wonder was Rachel Carson's final book; her intentions to expand it into a full-sized dissertation were derailed by her premature death from cancer. As it stands in its posthumously-published version (usually presented as part of a nature photo pictorial), it isn't much longer than an essay - but it's probably her most potent book. Its thesis is on how to impart a sense of natural curiosity to the young, and its suggested solution is mere exposure to the great outdoors - not with any particular point or pointed instruction in mind; just to look and see and experience. As Carson explains:

I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. 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. Once the emotions have been aroused - a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration, or love - then we wish for knowledge about the object of our emotional response.

Carson interweaves her thesis with treasured memories of exploring the wild with her own young nephew, Roger, venturing out together into the spring woods and pretending the new crop of spruce seedlings woulc make fine Christmas trees for the squirrels, or seated "in the dark living room before the big picture window to watch the full moon riding lower and lower toward the far shore of the bay, setting all the water ablaze with silver flames and finding a thousand diamonds in the rocks on the shore as the light strikes the flakes of mica embedded in them." Carson's genius was in her talent for bringing the workings of the natural world to life for a wide audience with lyrical prose, and The Sense of Wonder, though short, is perhaps her most graceful and compelling synthesis of beauty with fact.

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