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In Memoriam: Theodore Michael Dracos

Today's post is from Alexis Rizzuto, an editor at Beacon Press.

TD by Joel Rogers -  Marfa Spring 2009We at Beacon would like to commemorate the passing of one of our environmental authors, Theodore Michael Dracos (Ted in his by-line, Theo to friends). His book, Biocidal: Confronting the Poisonous Legacy of PCBs, first came to us in 2008 but went to another press. Nonetheless, I kept the manuscript and used it frequently as a reference to better understand the workings of toxic chemicals in our ecosystems and in our bodies. I also kept in touch with Theo. When the book came back on the market, I was glad to be able to bring it on to Beacon's list.

Theo was passionate about getting the word out about PCBs, these synthetic chemicals that can now be found in everything from fish to frogs, eels to eagles, orcas to Inuits. They have been found in every human ever tested, in our blood and even in breast milk, threatening us at our most vulnerable stages of development. One of the most fascinating scientific pieces he wrote was a clear explanation of epigenetics—the study of how toxins can cause changes on a genetic level, changes that actually become inheritable.

Biocidal Keenly aware of the destruction wreaked by the largely unregulated release of industrial chemicals into our biosphere, Theo could easily have become hopeless. Indeed, in our correspondence we'd often share the latest news on the role of chemicals in such abominations as the collapse of bee colonies, the spread of a communicable cancer in Tasmanian devils, the ongoing decimation of America's bat population, a rash of beak deformities in Alaska's birds. It was after that last blow that I shared with him a quote from Aldo Leopold: "One of the penalties of an ecological education is living alone in a world of wounds." To that, Theo added, "and a world of beauty."

I agreed, though I told him that I sometimes find it hard to see past the wounds. His response is one I return to whenever the latest environmental degradation leaves me dispirited:

"That's not good about the wounds getting in the way of the beauty. Jung said, 'Life is brutal and beautiful.' It seems to me that the only way to counteract the brutality and suffering is to concentrate on the beauty at every chance."

And he did, sending me photos of the bluebells on his rural West Texas property, and telling me of the family of mountain lions that had taken up residence nearby.

The fight against PCBs and other toxic chemicals goes on, as does their destructive work. But when I get overwhelmed by the wounds, I think of Theo's ability to appreciate the glories that remain. Thanks, friend.

Photo of Theo Dracos by Joel Rodgers.