“Grandma, I want to be a superhero with super powers,” said our 9-year-old grandson as we headed outdoors to play baseball.




The previous night we had watched “How to Train Your Dragon”, a DreamWorks animation film which features a young Viking boy (Hiccup) who defies convention by training, rather than killing dragons.

“It would be so cool to have a super power,” Jaden said.

“What kind of super power would you like?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t know, something that helps me do good things for people’” And in the way of 9-year-old boys, moved quickly into the task of setting up bases in the middle of our dirt road.

I thought about all the Superhero movies I’ve watched with Jaden—Astro Boy, Frozen, Spiderman, Batman. Superheroes are important to him. They help shape dreams of who he might become and what he might do for the world.

One of the things Jaden was required to do with us during his spring break was read aloud every day. One of the books he read to us was Rachel Carson, Friend of Nature.

I told him she is my Superhero, that she never gave up trying to educate people about the dangers of pesticides. She truly inspired me to use my scientific training to educate people about the importance of protecting the beauty of nature.

Fifty years ago this month Rachel Carson published Silent Spring and launched the modern day environmental movement. With her carefully honed ability to explain science to ordinary people, she helped us understand that the unquestioned, widespread use of pesticides was not necessarily the good thing we in the 1950’s and 1960’s were led to believe.

I was a high school student when that book was published in 1964—six years older than Jaden. I read newspaper criticisms and watched television interviews. And I have since read nearly every biography that has been written about her.

Just like Jaden’s superheroes, she met with furious resistance from powerful foes—chiefly big chemical companies and their scientists. And also like Jaden’s superheroes, she had to bring to bear great skill and determination to “save” people.

Our dear grandson has returned to his third grade classroom in Los Angeles now. He is probably not thinking much about Rachel Carson, but he is still thinking about superheroes. And maybe, just maybe, he has a little deeper understanding of how he might use his fine young life to become a super hero.



5 replies
  1. Jeanne Petrick
    Jeanne Petrick says:

    Ditto on Barbara’s response!!! You have taught me so much about the earth – you will never know. For that my life is better and I am grateful.

  2. Sara Harris
    Sara Harris says:

    so beautiful and inspiring. I feel that way about Terry tempest Williams. She’s one of my super heroes! Love Sara

  3. Laura
    Laura says:

    I love this. Agreed with Barbara and Jeanne, you were my first super hero, and my life has never been the same. The thing that amazes me most in this post though is that Jaden is 9 years old! He sounds like a wonderful young man.

  4. docmks
    docmks says:

    Thank you for this wonderful, inspiring post. It gives me hope to hear of a third-grader saying that he would like to have a super power that would help him “do good things for people.” It gives me hope to hear that he is reading aloud a book about Rachel Carson. And I so appreciate being reminded of the anniversary of Silent Spring. It was indeed the work of a modern day superhero. Over the years, I’ve learned so much about Rachel Carson and nature from you. Like her, you’ve taught that we gain so much more (than just a “knowledge “of nature) from being outside, with great humility and wonder, in nature. Thank you for how you so lovingly continue to carry this legacy, and integrate it with the superpowers that are uniquely yours. I’ve been very fortunate in my life to have had some true Super Heros as teachers. Thank you.


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