Thursday, November 19, 1998
"Voice from the Sea. It was a long time deciding on that name, but that one seemed to be the most natural" says Big Sur environmentalist Margaret Wentworth Owings of the title of her forthcoming book. "It has been a privilege to live with such beauty, such immensity," Owings tells Coast Weekly. But there is a tremendous "responsibility that went with this privilege," she adds.
It is this responsibility to nature that has defined much of Owings'' life, driving her to become an environmental activist long before the word environmentalist was known. It is also this responsibility that fills the pages of her soon-to-be-published book--a compilation of speeches, magazine articles and reflections on life that Owings produced over her 85 years, some 40-plus of which have been dedicated to preserving natural wildlife habitats.
As the Monterey Bay Aquarium publisher in charge of the project, Nora Deans explains Owings'' writings carry on "as the witness for nature." Owings "used most of these words to inspire people to action to protect the environment," says Deans.
An artist by training, Owings moved to Big Sur with her architect husband in the ''50s. The house he designed for them, "Wild Bird," was built right into the Big Sur rock, with the beach just below. It provided not only a spectacular view but also a vantage point to observe Pacific sea life, and Owings quickly developed a reverential appreciation for the majesty of the sea lions that fed, frolicked and were fed upon outside her window. "The house gave a psychological turn to our lives as well as a joyous one," Owings remembers. It also provided the inspiration that pushed her to become an activist.
Early on in her years as an environmental steward, Owings was to go to Sacramento to testify against legislation aimed at killing 75 percent of the sea lions on our coast--this despite the fact that, as she explains, she was never politically oriented and "had never gone up to a hearing in [her] life." Owings was also to establish the Friends of the Sea Otter, successfully derail legislation that would have allowed mountain lion hunting, and halt development of Carmel''s Monastery Beach, to name just a few of her accomplishments.
Owings says that she has always been "a rescuer." She tells how when she was a child she used to rescue and replant the wildflower bulbs that other children pulled up from the Berkeley Hills soil surrounding her family home. She explains that she was born with diabetes and "couldn''t go to school at the beginning." She says, "It helped to shape my character in rescuing and helping those in distress."
Owings'' book will be dedicated to Rachel Carson, the author of Silent Spring, which called the world''s attention to the dangers of pesticides in our foods. Owings recounts that Carson had developed cancer while writing her book, but she didn''t want to tell anyone for fear of people thinking that her cancer, rather than her concern for our habitat, was the inspiration behind Silent Spring. When Owings met her in 1963, just after Carson received the National Audobon Society Medal, Carson was feeble. Carson told Owings of her illness and expressed her concern that she didn''t know who would carry on after the cancer overcame her. Says Owings, "Rachel had never told anyone else. I felt that this was my role," to carry on for Carson.
Deans, who refers to Owings as the "Rachel Carson of today," hopes that Voice from the Sea will inspire people to become "stewards of the natural world," as Owings wishes. "We really wanted to show what a difference one person can make," Deans says. Owings "reminds us how much can be accomplished through gentle persuasion and informed advocacy."
The Monterey Bay Aquarium publishes book and videos with the goal of inspiring knowledge and fostering commitment to ocean conservation. Voicefrom the Sea, due to be released this winter, will be the 24th title from Monterey Bay Aquarium Press.