…I thought of the February letters. So to them I went. Do you know it took me a whole hour to read all you wrote to me in a month?
What wouldn’t the world give to have them? For, my darling, they are the most beautiful expressions of love I have ever read. So tender and loving and beautifully said. They began with the hyacinth letter–the Revelation.Dorothy Freeman, in a letter to Rachel Carson, January 31, 1955
Dorothy referred here to rereading all the letters Rachel had written to her during February of 1954. I myself continue to read the women’s letters very slowly, still making my way through the letters of January 1955–but with stubborn optimism about our new childcare that begins tomorrow!
Two passages are most striking to me from this passage of Dorothy’s letter. First is her question, “What wouldn’t the world give to have them?” As someone who studies the history of queer rhetoric and letter-writing practices, though usually from the nineteenth century, I share with Dorothy the sense that Rachel’s letters–and Dorothy’s–are unbelievably valuable.
Like many women before them, Rachel and Dorothy deliberately destroyed some of their passionate letters. But we, “the world,” are so fortunate to have access to what letters are extant. I am grateful to Rachel and Dorothy; I am grateful also to Martha Freeman for her editorial work. I suppose I hold these kinds of letters from the past, much like what survives of the natural world, with a certain reverence.
Second, the above passage from Dorothy’s letter referred to Rachel’s “hyacinth letter.” While Dorothy characterized all of the letters as “the most beautiful expressions of love I have ever read,” it was the hyacinth letter in particular that amounted to “the Revelation.” Martha Freeman noted the importance of this letter, from February 6, 1954, to both women. “Over the years,” Freeman explained, “this later gained in significance for RC and DF and was always referred to as ‘the hyacinth letter.” The letter became part of what Lida Maxwell has characterized as the lexicon that Rachel and Dorthy developed for their loving relationship.
So what does the letter say? Here is the key passage:
Do you remember what someone said to the effect that (I’m quoting very inexactly) if he had two pennies he would use one to buy bread and the other to buy “a white hyacinth for his soul”? You, dearest, are the “white hyacinth”…Rachel Carson, in a letter to Dorothy Freeman, February 6, 1954
More on the hyacinth letter in future posts (and here too, I hope). With today being Martin Luther King, Jr., Day in the US, I have found myself wondering about any potential connections between King and Carson as contemporaries. My search was quick (have I mentioned we don’t have childcare right now?). It didn’t uncover any actual meetings of the two. But there is some commentary on connections in their thinking about interrelatedness.
For example, Drew Dellinger has pointed to lines from King’s Christmas Sermon of 1967. King said, “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” “Then, with a sentence that could easily have been uttered by John Muir or Rachel Carson,” according to Dellinger, “Dr. King stated, ‘It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated.’”
By 1967, Carson had passed. But in 1954 and 1955, when she and Dorothy wrote the above letters to each other, King began “his pastorate at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama,” earned his doctorate from Boston University, and became president of the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association.
What if Carson had engaged with King’s thinking about the interrelatedness of life and love? What if, from Carson’s earliest contributions to ecological thinking and activism, she had recognized the connections between her work and environmental racism that have been underscored by the environmental justice movement?
These are questions I’m thinking about today. Yesterday, I capped off last week’s base-building with a hike. My friend Lib and I hiked a stretch of the Standing Stone Trail, near the Stone Mountain Hawk Watch Platform. The drive down the mountaintop afterwards was icy and treacherous, but the hike was beautiful.
|M, 1/11||2.5 miles, walked close to home pushing the little one in the jogging stroller|
Yoga with Adrienne’s Breath Challenge (YWA), day 10
|T, 1/12||2.3 miles, walked with the kiddo in stroller|
YWA, day 11
|W, 1/13||4 miles, ran pushing him in stroller|
YWA, day 12
|Th, 1/14||about 1 mile, walking and running around The Arboretum at Penn State with the family|
YWA, day 13
|F, 1/15||1.6 miles, walking with little one in the stroller|
YWA, day 14
|Sa, 1/16||about 1 mile, again walking around the Arboretum with the fam, as well as some friends|
YWA, day 15
|Su, 1/17||6.9 miles, hiking a section of the Standing Stone Trail with my friend Lib|