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Notes from the Field

To Walk Among Giants

July 24th, 2009 by Gene Feldman

After nearly two days and twenty hours of death by powerpoint, the opportunity finally arose where I was going to be able to walk perhaps as close as I was going to come in the footsteps of Darwin. While Darwin never set foot on Santa Cruz Island, a trip was organized for a group of us to travel up into the highlands of Santa Cruz, away from the arid coastal zone with its bare lava rock, basking marine iguanas and stands of cactus and to journey up into the cool, moist jungle that is the home of the giants of Galapagos – the Tortoise. Although I had seen a few of these amazing creatures that are kept at the Darwin Station as part of their conservation program, the possibility of actually coming face to face with one of these giants in their natural habitat was something really exciting to imagine. In Darwin’s case, he was put ashore on James’ Island (Santiago) and along with his companion explored the highlands. He wrote in his diary on 9 October 1835; Read more

Powerpoint in Paradise

July 23rd, 2009 by Gene Feldman

My journey to Galapagos began with a letter of invitation that I received from the Charles Darwin Foundation which included the following statement:


“Recognizing the great contribution of your research and of NASA developments in remote ocean sensing across the dynamic Galapagos region we invite you to deliver a lecture as part of the Galapagos Science Symposium,  July 20-24, 2009. This event celebrates Darwin’s 200th birthday and 50 years of science for conservation working to develop a sustainable future for the islands.  We would also take this opportunity to invite you to participate in the marine ecological and oceanographic research planned aboard the Galapagos National Park Service vessel M/N Sierra Negra.” Read more

Close Encounters of the Galapagos Kind

July 22nd, 2009 by Gene Feldman

I would be less than honest if I said that my first impressions of the Galapagos were everything that I’d hoped for and that I’d felt transported back to the world that I had read so much about in Darwin’s and FitzRoy’s journals. Try as I might, I think I only managed to spot a solitary Booby, perched alongside the ferry that we took from Baltra to Santa Cruz, and although at times I thought that an overturned mound of lava rock along the road might actually be one of the giant tortoises that I had read so much about, it was in fact, sadly just a rock.

However, the creatures that Darwin so vividly described and that left such a strong impression on him and which have become the iconic symbols for the islands did indeed make their appearance known very soon after we dropped off our bags and headed for a walk towards the Darwin Research Station, which is literally at the end of the road on the east side of Academy Bay. The first stop we made was along a little wooden walkway that extended out through the mangroves along the shore of Pelican Bay, which was quite accurately named because no sooner had I entered the mangroves than I was surrounded on all sides by pelicans, perched on every possible branch and close enough to touch if I were so inclined. They seemed to have absolutely no fear nor interest in humans and carried on preening themselves as happily as could be.

Pelicans minding their own business.

Pelicans minding their own business.

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First Impressions

July 21st, 2009 by Gene Feldman

“These islands at a distance have a sloping uniform outline, excepting where broken by sundry paps & hillocks. — The whole is black Lava, completely covered by small leafless brushwood & low trees. — The fragments of Lava where most porous are reddish & like cinders; the stunted trees show little signs of life. — The black rocks heated by the rays of the Vertical sun like a stove, give to the air a close & sultry feeling. The plants also smell unpleasantly. The country was compared to what we might imagine the cultivated parts of the Infernal regions to be.” Charles Darwin, 16 September 1835

I had read these words in Darwin’s Beagle Diary of his first encounter with the Galapagos from the deck of the Beagle, but their true impact only hit me as the airplane that was carrying me the 1,000 kilometers from Quito started its descent through a nearly continuous layer of clouds. With my nose pressed to the window, I was looking for anything that was neither ocean nor cloud since the two seemed to be nearly indistinguishable. As we finally broke through the last cloudbank there, off in the distance, were two lumps of volcanic cinder rising out of the ocean. Realizing that neither one of these could possibly be large enough to land an airplane on, I strained to look in the direction that the plane was heading and there, true to Darwin’s description, were the Galapagos.

First view of the Galapagos Islands.

First view of the Galapagos Islands.

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You’ve got Mail

July 20th, 2009 by Gene Feldman

A few red leather bound notebooks, some loose sheets of fine paper, a quill pen and an inkwell were all that Darwin required to keep his family, friends and colleagues informed as to the people, places and things that he was encountering during the five years that he was on the Beagle.  However, although Darwin was a prolific writer and quite religious in keeping up with his correspondence as the events took place, it often took months for a letter to reach its intended recipient back in England and an even longer and often less certain chance of letters from home finding Darwin.


Letters Darwin wrote from the Beagle.

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