Although Rachel Carson is probably best known for her bestseller, Silent Spring, she would have preferred to be remembered more for her earlier works on the sea, which the editor of The Best American Essays of the Century calls "elegantly composed and superbly textured." Carson had wanted to be a poet originally but fell in love with the biological sciences during her studies at Pennsylvania College for Women. She considered herself a writer rather than a reformer, and her work includes "some of the century's most impressive nature writing."
"The Marginal World" was first published in The Edge of the Sea in 1955 as well as a condensed version in The New Yorker that same year. This marginal world is that which exists between land and sea.
"The Shore is an ancient world, for as long as there has been an earth and sea there has been this place of the meeting of land and water. Yet it is a world that keeps alive the sense of continuing creation and of the relentless drive for life. Each time that I enter it, I gain some new awareness of its beauty and its deeper meanings, sensing that intricate fabric of life by which one creature is linked with another, and each with its surroundings."
Carson writes so lyrically of this magical world, which is teeming with life that many of us don't bother to look at or look at but don't really "see". The shore is ever changing--sometimes part of the land and sometimes part of the sea as the tides ebb and flow. Carson writes that only the most hardiest of creatures can survive this region that is so mutable.
She visited a pool hidden within a small cave that is rarely visible--only when the tide is at its lowest point during the year and only briefly. She calls this a "fairy pool" where the ceiling of the cave is just inches from the floor and for this very brief moment she can see into this very private little world.
"Under water that was clear as glass the pool was carpeted with green sponge. Gray patches pf sea squirts glistened on the ceiling and the colonies of soft coral were a pale apricot color. In the moment when I looked into the cave a little elfin starfish hung down, suspended by the merest thread, perhaps by only a single tube foot. It reached down to touch its own reflection, so perfectly delineated that there might have been, not one starfish, but two. The beauty of the reflected images and of the limpid pool itself was the poignant beauty of things that are ephemeral, existing only until the sea should return to gill the little cave."
Isn't that marvelous? I love the idea that all this life is going on all around us completely unobserved and will continue to do so whether we're here or not. It makes you wonder at the vastness of life. She goes on to talk about the shore and night which is an entirely different world. She comes upon a little ghost crab sitting in a pit it had dug just above the surf.
"I have seen hundreds of ghost crabs in other settings, but suddenly I was filled with the off sensation that for the first time I knew the creature in its own world--that I understood, as never before, the essence of its being. In that moment time was suspended; the world to which I belonged did not exist and I might have been an onlooker from outer space. The little crab alone with the sea became a symbol that stood for life itself--for the delicate, destructible, yet incredibly vital force that somehow holds its place amid the harsh realities of the inorganic world."
Carson writes with such beauty and passion of this world that lives between the tides. It is constantly changing and evolving. As I was reading I was wondering what she would make the world today and how it has changed in the last nearly half century since her death.
"Underlying the beauty of the spectacle there is meaning and significance. It is the elusiveness of that meaning that haunts us, that sends us again and again into the natural world where the key to the riddle is hidden."