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Trying to Protect the Sacred

Silent Spring

We write today in praise of a remarkable recent project by Chris Jordan, whose precise documentation of the fate of albatrosses on Midway we have long admired here at DP; indeed, we rank those photographs among the essential visual documents of the anthropocene. To this category, we now add the extraordinary collaborative photograph, Silent Spring, Jordan’s most recent addition to his “Running the Numbers” series. The photograph is based on an absolutely stunning series of drawings by Rebecca Clark.


The Dangers of Pesticides to Wildlife

"It was a spring without voices. On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices there was now no sounds; only silence over the fields and woods and marsh."

"A Fable for Tomorrow" from Rachel Carson's Silent Spring


Many of us are familiar with Rachel Carson's seminal work, Silent Spring. But far fewer are aware that more pesticides are used today that at the time her book was published in 1962 and that these pesticides continue to pose an enormous risk to wildlife. Despite the ban of the organochlorine DDT in the United States, which was a wise decision that led to the improved health of many species like the bald eagle, many of our most commonly and newer chemicals are equally or more dangerous to wildlife and some harmful compounds closely related to DDT are still in use.

Unlike DDT and other organochlorines, which persisted in the environment long after their application, accumulated in the food chain and caused eggshell thinning, the most widely used pesticides today are organophosphates and carbamates that do not bioaccumulate and degrade rapidly in sunlight. But, they are much more acutely toxic, many even at very low levels.

Organophosphates and carbamates impact wildlife mainly by affecting the nervous system by inhibiting an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase. These chemicals prevent this enzyme from breaking down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which then accumulates. "Acetylcholine accumulation increases nerve impulse transmission and leads to nerve exhaustion and, ultimately, failure of the nervous system, When the nervous system fails, muscles do not receive the electrical input they require to move. The respiratory muscles are the most critical muscle group affected, and respiratory paralysis is often the immediate cause of death." Before death occurs, an organism exposed to organophosphates and carbamate may behave abnormally and alter the animal's ability to survive or reproduce. In birds, for example, exposure can impact the bird's ability to sing and therefore decrease its changes of successfully attracting a mate or establishing a territory. Or it could impact the bird's care for its young, causing the nestlings to starve to death.


I make drawings of the natural world, transient moments of grace and beauty. Inspired by plant and animal studies of the Northern Renaissance, Netherlandish devotional panel paintings, Eastern spiritual texts, and nature mysticism as expressed through various forms of art, music, poetry and prose, my art acknowledges interconnectedness in nature and our loss of connection with the sacred.

Our planet is broken because we've lost relationship with nature, with out soul. My drawings serve as more than intimare portraits; they are testaments to lives lived. They are memento mori, reminders ins this age of ecocide that we, too, will die-- for humans cannot live detached from nature. May these quiet drawings remind us of our place on this planet and awaken our consciousness to the cosmos of which we are part.

Read original content at Desperado Philosophy.