Tag Archives: nature

Other Worlds: the Galapagos Islands

7 Apr

Ecuadorian flag island pic

Before I left for the Galapagos, I’d decided that when I got back, I was going to write a novel about it. Something with conservation and evolution and a plethora of landscapes. Something sci-fi with the Galapagos as the basis for world-building. It was to be a novel rooted in the fantasmic biological complexity of life. It would feature land and sea and maybe even air as homes for its characters. I was going to call it Other Worlds. I had most of the vague notions for it swimming around in my head. All I had to do, I thought, was go to the Galapagos, actually see and explore the islands, get their dirt under my fingernails. You know, go visit and so solidify my understanding of the place.

Ha. That, lovely readers, was quite a misguided notion.

Jeff leant me his underwater camera for one of the snorkeling trips. I'm kinda in love with the footage I was able to get.

Jeff leant me his underwater camera for one of the snorkeling trips. I’m kinda in love with the footage I was able to get.

I have now gone to the Galapagos. I saw, I explored, I got so much dirt under my fingernails. I swam with sea turtles, I paddled a panga through mangrove swamp, I even climbed volcanoes! I watched the mating dance of the blue-footed boobies, saw flamingoes fly, shared a rock with a marine iguana pile, and got bitten far too many times by fire ants. I was a voyeur to lava lizard courting, I learned how to distinguish the invasive from the native guava, I watched two frigate birds joust above our boat and shouted in delighted surprise as a manta ray jumped from the water and managed three flips before crashing back into the ocean. I counted rorqual whale spouts, chirped at ground finches, and can now tell the difference between a’a lava and pahoehoe.

All that, and the list isn’t even half done. And yet after nine days in the Galapagos, I know that while my understanding of the islands is certainly greater, it is by no means more complete. Definitely one of those “the more you know, the more you know you don’t know” kind of things. I was constantly overwhelmed, in the most beautiful and wondrous of ways. There were times I actually felt like I was giong to explode from the sheer amount of coolness around me. The perpetual flow of strange and interesting and beautiful and curious and dangerous – I’m seriously flabbergasted as to how I didn’t just pop.

“Other Worlds” would certainly be an apt term for a book shaped around the Galapagos. My conception of the islands was completely blown apart by going there. On a map, the islands look so tiny. Barely even crumb-sized, next to the giant swatch of continental pizza that is South America. (I swear I’m not hungry. I seriously just ate. I have no clue where the food metaphors are coming from…)

Here, I've provided a handy figure for you.

Here, I’ve provided a handy figure for you.

Sure, I didn’t get a chance to visit all of the islands (oh, don’t worry, Galapagos 2.0 is totally already on my to-do list), and the islands I did explore were some of the larger ones, but still – the Galapagos islands are freaking hugeIt’s absurd, the amount of diversity, of flat out differentness (shut up, differentness can use fake words instead of their real versions if I want to) present on one island. At times, if I hadn’t known we were just visiting a different side of the same island, I would have sworn we had to have gone to another island. Another latitude, actually. There was no way we were at the same place. For example – lava fields, forests of Palo Verde trees, desert landscape where frigates nested among dry bark and cacti… all on Santa Cruz. And then there’s Isabella, where one half of the island is an expanse of miles and miles of uninhabited desolation, and the other half of the island is tourism central. Kitschy souvenir shops, cheap bars, untended trashcans and litter along the road… Really, the sense of complete separation of the two terrains speaks to how well the park officials and naturalists are doing at keeping the junk of human existence out of the National Park land. It’s not even a policy of “pack in, pack out” – because there are some items you just aren’t allowed to pack in to begin with. No gum, no liquids other than straight-up, plain-ol’ unflavored water, no food of any kind whatsoever, prepackaged or otherwise. Wrappers, foil, plastic – any chance to leave trash behind is almost completely eliminated.

Almost completely. Unfortunately, there was still the occasional stray chapstick cap or dropped pencil (yes, I did backtrack a quarter of a mile to retrieve a pen I’d lost; don’t worry, the pen is now safe and sound back in my apartment, not leaching chemicals into Galapagos soil or anything). Any time we did encounter an errant invader that we couldn’t reach to clean up ourselves (some trails are covered by a boardwalk), Ernesto, our naturalist, noted it so that he could inform the park officials that removal maintenance was required.

Trail maintenance! For the tortoises, of course.

Trail maintenance! For the tortoises, of course.

 

Honestly, the Galapagos is doing a damn good job of keeping human mess to a minimum, largely thanks to the efforts of naturalists like Ernesto. The man, he’s amazing. Having been a naturalist for over 20 years, he basically knows everything. Sure, it’s because he’s studied the material, but it’s more because he also sees the reality, week in and week out. Ernest knows what the papers in scientific journals say about the Galapagos, but he also knows what he sees for himself, in real time, on the ground. And he’s not afraid to explicitly point out when there’s a difference. (Like when he pointed out the carpenter bees that “don’t exist” on Isabela…) I don’t think I’ve ever seen so beautiful a combination of book-smart intelligence and real-life common sense in one man before.

And the winner of this season’s “Miceala’s Idol” is…

Ahem. Anyhoo. I’ve barely just started to tell you all of my adventures, but already I’ve rambled quite enough for one blog post. Sorry for the delay in this first report back, by the way. I honestly just hadn’t known where to start. There’s so much.

But no worries. I have started, and it’s like the floodgates have opened. There will be more.

You might just have to wait a bit for it.

Goodnight from Santa Cruz Island.

Goodnight from Santa Cruz Island.

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What I Want For My Kids

21 Mar
These are not my children. (source)

These are not my children.
(source)

I don’t have kids. And I don’t plan to have kids for a very very very very very very long time. If ever. I kinda just want to adopt one. Whatever. Anyhoo. The point is, I probably maybe possibly very well may have small human things that receive my maternal care and eternal love and whatnot. Kids. And I’m going to want some things for them.

The thought just randomly crossed my mind this morning, while I was sitting in a cafe and staring out the window and at my cell phone screen in turns, trying to keep the loneliness away.

Aaaanyhoo. All of a sudden, thought was just there: What am I going to want for my kids?

And right on the heels of that question came a torrential flow of answers that I hadn’t even known I’d stored anywhere in my brain.

I mean, sure, I’m basically a hippie, and looking at this list, these are all things that I’d want for myself, too. But isn’t that kind of part of the point?

Here. Let me just tell you what surfaced in my brain as the important things. Here is what I want for my kids:

Piles of leaves to jump in.

Hills covered in green grass to tumble down.

Deep, dense forests to wander through.

Lakes to go swimming in.

Rocky beaches with lots of tide pools to explore.

Burning blue skies with the occasional puffy white cloud to imagine funny shapes in.

Tall mountains and deep caverns and cliffs doused in the spray of the ocean.

Deserts to find the hidden spaces of.

Lightning bugs to chase in July and butterflies to watch in August, bees to know the bumble buzzing of and birds whose songs will wake them up in the morning.

Sunshine. Rain. Snow. Maybe even a couple of hailstorms.

Sprawling countryside unbroken by sidewalks.

Sidewalks and concrete that have become bounded by green spaces.

Respect and reverence and raucous laughter.

Tears, of multiple kinds.

The strengthening of hardwood that still sways in the wind.

Fire light.

The birth and death of a spinning cosmos as a concept grown behind their blinking eyes.

Love.

If nothing else, love.

a couple of poems about flowers

13 Jan

flowers

 

Clarity, Inebriation

I want to get the world drunk on flowers,

high on the intoxicating air of a clear spring day

when the scent of a world starting again

out of the rubble of winter

inundates you with the triumph of a million

petals opening up from their buds

and waving at you as the breeze bounces by.

I want smiles to bloom and blossom

and heads to spin from the beauty of it all.

 

Poem for a Lover

Bring me a bouquet of wildflowers,

for then I will know

that you have gone and seen the world.

The Fear of What Comes Next

18 Aug

Recently, there was a Times article entitled ‘Having It All Without Having Children.’ I haven’t read the entire piece, but my impression is that it generally discusses views on having children and why that is or is not a good idea for various couples and how attitudes are changing about the “selfishness” of child-free couples.

Now, since I haven’t actually read the entire article I can’t guarantee this, but I got the feeling that it probably didn’t cover a few of the reasons that women I’ve known have had for being hesitant to have children. Reasons that will cause most people to just shut their mouths and nod.

But I also thought of the women I’ve known who could have had those same reasons and went ahead and had children anyway. And honestly, I think those women are incredibly brave. To decide to take the risk and have another kid after a couple already has one child born with autism or blindness or leukemia… To decide to try again, and again and again and again, after the trauma of miscarrying… To decide to invest a piece of what made your soul and your biology in another person when you’ve been diagnosed with clinical depression or bipolar disorder or bulimia… I’m not sure I could make those decisions.

And so this is a poem for all those women who have stared in the face of the fear of what comes next, and had a child anyway. And this is a poem, too, for all those who have known that fear and quietly, determinedly said no, I will not.

empty swing

The Fear of What Comes Next

You look at me and wonder –
what if it would turn out just like you?
You think about the nights you have lost,
rocking me in a cradle, colicky and cold
beyond any warmth the touch of your fingers would give.
You think about the moments upon moments of delusion,
when you hoped that this was just a phase,
and the little face looking back at you would smile some day,
and call you mama.
You wonder if the next one, like me, would never, not once,
be able to say that word.
You decided you will not give nature and chance
any more cruel opportunity.

You look at me and wonder –
what if it would turn out just like you?
You think about the nights you have lost,
staring bleary-eyed at that reflection in the mirror,
across the sink, over the pill bottles your shaky hand fingers.
You think about the moments upon moments of delusion,
when you hoped that this was just a phase,
and the nakedness looking back at you would smile some day,
and call you unbroken.
You wonder if the next one, like me, would never, not once,
be able to say that word.
You decided you will not give nature and chance
any more cruel opportunity.

And so they turn away from him, with that damn hopeful look in his eyes,
and say it’s late. Perhaps in the morning.