“The moon itself may have been born of a great tidal wave of earthly substance, torn off into space. And remember that if the moon was formed in this fashion, the event may have had much to do with shaping the ocean basins and the continents as we know them.
There were tides in the new earth, long before there was an ocean. In response to the pull of the sun the molten liquids of the earth’s whole surface rose in tides that rolled unhindered around the globe and only gradually slackened and diminished as the earthly shell cooled, congealed, and hardened. Those who believe that the moon is a child of Earth say that during an early stage of the earth’s development something happened that caused this rolling, viscid tide to gather speed and momentum and to rise to unimaginable heights.
Physicists have calculated that, after 500 years of such monstrous, steadily increasing tides, those on the side toward the sun became too high for stability, and a great wave was torn away and hurled into space. But immediately, of course, the newly created satellite became subject to physical laws that sent it spinning in an orbit of its own about the earth. This is what we call the moon.
There is to this day a great scar on the surface of the globe. This scar or depression holds the Pacific Ocean.” – Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us
Rachel Carson published The Sea Around Us 69 years ago, and it was a runaway best-seller at the time. I’ve known Carson as the author of Silent Spring, but was ignorant of this book that launched her into fame. As the name suggests, the book explores the sea and is filled with magically breathless wonder. The excerpt above filled me with awe and set the stage to position this book at the top of the stack. For who doesn’t look at the moon and wonder how it got there? And this theory of a massive wave of molten liquid rising up and ripping from the earth to form the moon, and the great scar of the Pacific basin makes as much sense to me as any other.
Science is a funny thing. I ran away from science in school because the teachers were dispassionate bores. But when I read a passage that delivers a rightful sense of awe to the story, well, it becomes captivating. If the politicization of the pandemic and mask-wearing has demonstrated anything, its that the world needs more captivating story-tellers in science. Carson was a catalyst for a better understanding of our oceans and the environment with a page-turning writing style that betrayed her own wonder at the subject matter. Were her writing style technical and dry she never would have made the impact that she did, and the world may never have realized the threat of nuclear waste dumped into the ocean or of DDT on the food chain we are very much a part of. If she were alive today I expect she’d have a lot to say about plastic and climate change.
Writing isn’t nearly as epic as creating a moon, but it can feel that way sometimes to the writer. I’m plugging away at the writing, both here and elsewhere, and feel that the words and characters are my own rolling, viscid tide moving unchecked through my mind. At some point maybe that momentum will spawn something awe-worthy. And that’s the challenge isn’t it? To produce something compelling and timeless. Watching the waxing crescent moon peaking through the forest last night as it dropped into the western sky was both an inspiration and a challenge to get it right. I imagine Rachel Carson looked up at the moon in a similar way, and she rose to that challenge. So why not us?