Carson describes an idyllic American town, whose fields and orchards are bursting with beautiful plant and animal life: abundant birds and fish, wildflowers, and vividly colored oaks, maples, and birch. Since the time of its first settlers, this town’s natural life has drawn admiration from travelers and delighted locals.
To begin her book, Carson’s elaborate description of this beautiful setting – which is deliberately unidentified, so that its appeal becomes universal – creates a nostalgic portrait of life lived in harmony with the natural world.
Suddenly, a ‘strange blight’ strikes the area, leaving a swathe of sickness and death in its wake. Inexplicable illnesses, among both adults and children, puzzle the town’s doctors. An eerie silence reigns, as birds are found everywhere dead or dying, trembling violently.
This blight has the quality of a fairy-tale villain, slowly poisoning the perfect natural setting of the town. Its silence becomes a symbol of the dark future without nature that Carson argues pesticides will create.
Farm animals fail to reproduce successfully, or their young survive only a few days. Apple trees bloom, but without bees to pollinate them there will be no fruit. The lush roadside vegetation withers, and streams are emptied and lifeless, so that no anglers come to visit.
Here, Carson demonstrates the links that bind each part of the town and its environment, and shows that the consequences when one part is affected quickly spread throughout the community. These non-specific images will be replaced with real-life examples in the coming chapters.
In patches leftover on rooftops lies the culprit; a fine white powder. Carson warns that the people of this imaginary town are themselves responsible for its destruction. “A grim specter”, she writes, has crept upon us to silence the voices of spring, and her book will attempt to unmask it.
This serves as the ‘moral’ of the fable that opens the book. The fairy-tale villain is none other than humans ourselves, or at least the poisons that we—humans—have created. Carson is urging us to take responsibility for becoming educated about the dangers of the pesticides we make and use.