In this heartfelt chapter of The Frightened Face of Nature, Maxwell Knight drops his guard and invites the reader to consider the unthinkable – “the virtual disappearance of nature”.
“Does such a question as that heading this chapter stem from the neurotic imaginings of a fanatic,” he asks, “or is it one that can reasonably be put forward at the present (1964) time?”
This is a chapter of reflection – he questions how readers will see him, but his vulnerability is shelved for a higher purpose, for his love of all things nature. “It is always said that no person can truly see himself as he truly is to others, so one must be careful when producing an idea which might lead to the conclusion that no one in his right senses could even begin to think of anything so terrible and fantastic as the virtual disappearance of living things from the face of the earth or the ocean deeps.” He wrote this two years after Rachel Carson published Silent Spring (1962).
Could it be that “Miss Carson” awakened something within him that he couldn’t ignore? He acknowledges her “excellent book” and draws attention to her efforts to ban the indiscriminate use of pesticides like DDT. Was The Frightened Face of Nature his homage to Silent Spring? Or was this the treatise of an amateur naturalist, who’d spent his entire life interacting with nature, and who spotted something that many either ignored or turned a blind eye to?
He sets us up nicely and tucks us in to hear the “facts” that have encouraged him to draw our attention to his findings: “Take a deep breath, count up to ten or even twenty, and then consider some of the facts not fantasies – which face every human being today…”
The essence of this chapter is this: “in nature, all living things depend on something else.”