Rachel Carson and her legacy

At five-to-five this evening, March 29, Arnold called it at the Madison Cinema: no more seats. The owner of the downtown art house on Route 1 grabbed a few chairs from his small sitting area, where patrons can enjoy a glass of wine before the show, and did what he could to accommodate an overflow crowd, but eventually, after counting and counting again, he determined that he’d hit the limit for the fire code, and he was not anxious to test the rule.

So, a score of us were left in the foyer, wishing we’d come a few minutes earlier so we could catch the free showing of “A Sense of Wonder,” an hour-long documentary on the life of Rachel Carson. The show, co-sponsored by the Madison Historical Society, Menunkatuck Audubon Society, Friends of Hammonasset, and The Audubon Shop, is part of a national campaign to raise awareness of the role Carson and other women have played in the environmental movement.

The panel discussion afterward included folks involved in environmental issues around here, and local author Kay Kudlinski, who has profiled Carson in one of her many books. Kay’s a well-known local naturalist whose column for The New Haven Register for years tracked her curious and intimate view of nature — I remember because I used to edit her when I worked there.

But if you really want a sense of Carson, read her books. “Silent Spring” is of course her classic work, outlining the destructive threat of pesticides. That book was a catalyst for environmental change in the 1960s, including the ban on DDT, which led to the rebounding of once-threatened bird species such as the bald eagle and osprey.

Also check out “The Sea Around Us,” a book that instilled in me at a young age a sense of wonder and appreciation for the  natural world.

The Madison cinema gets kudos for the free showing, not an easy bet in hard times, and for the kind of local institution that has died out in so many towns. Maybe we can make it up to Arnold by making a point to take in an extra show there now and then, instead of heading to the multiplex or relying on Netflix.

Plenty of folks turned out to show they were interested in the environment. Hitting the local theater isn’t a bad way to improve the environment, either.

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