Dillard – Galapagos

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					                             Annie Dillard


                             INNOCENCE IN THE GALAPAGOS
                             Voyage to a time machine in the Pacific




                                                       I                              of my few photographs, though, because it ob-
                                                                                      sessed me: a dome of gray lava like a pitted loaf,
                            V IRST THERE WAS NOTHING, and although you                the size of the Plaza Hotel, glazed with guano
                            .'know with your reason that nothing is nothing,          and crawling with red-orange crabs. Sometimes
                              it is easier to visualize it as a limitless slosh of    I attributed to this island's cliff face a surly,
                              sea-say, the Pacific. Then energy contracted            infantile consciousness, as though it were sulk-
                              into matter, and although you know that even            ing in the silent moment after it had just shouted,
                              an invisible gas is matter, it is easier to visualize   to the sea and the sky, I didn't ask to be born.
                              it as a massive squeeze of volcanic lava spattered      Or sometimes it aged to a raging adolescent, a
                              inchoate from the secret pit of the ocean and           kid who's just learned that the game is fixed,
                              hardening mute and intractable on nothing's             demanding, What did you have me for, if you're
                              lapping shore-like a series of islands, an ar-          just going to push me around? Daphnecita:
                              chipelago. Like: the Galapagos. Then a softer           again, a wise old island, mute, leading the life of
                              strain of matter began to twitch. It was a kind         pure creaturehood open to any antelope or saint.
                              of shaped water; it flowed, hardening here and          After you've blown the ocean sky-high, what's
                              there at its tips. There were blue-green algae;         there to say? What if we the people had sense or
                              there were tortoises; there were men.                   grace to live as cooled islands in an archipelago
                                  The ice rolled up, the ice rolled back, and I       live, with dignity, passion, and no comment?
                              knelt on a plain of lava boulders in the islands
                             .called Galapagos, stroking a giant tortoise's
                              neck. The tortoise closed its eyes and stretched                                   A Bosch landscape
                              its neck to its greatest height and vulnerability.
                              I rubbed that neck, and when I pulled away my
                              hand, my palm was green with a slick of single-         Iand then ButBaltra inrocksGalapagos toEcuador,
                                                                                         T IS WORTH FLYING

                                                                                      the rocks.
                                                                                                 to
                                                                                                    these
                                                                                                               to Guayaquil,
                                                                                                              the             see only
                                                                                                                  are animal gardens.
                              celled algae. I stared at the algae, and at the
                              tortoise, the way you stare at any life on a lava       They are home to a Hieronymus Bosch assort-
                              flow, and thought, Well-here we all are.                ment of windblown, stowaway, castaway, flot-
                                  Being here is being here on the rocks. These        sam and shipwrecked creatures. Most exist no-
                              Galapagonian rocks, one' of them seventy-five           where else on earth. These reptiles and insects,
                              miles long, dried under the equatorial sun be-          small mammals and birds evolved unmolested on
                              tween 500 and 600 miles west of the South               the various islands on which they were cast into
                              American continent, at the latitude of the Re-          unique species adapted to the boulder-wrecked
                              public of Ecuador, to which they belong.                shores, the cactus deserts of the lowlands, or the
                                                                                      elevated jungles of the large island's interiors.
                                                                                      You come for the animals. You come to see the
                            T    HERE IS A WAY a small island rises from the          curious shapes soft proteins can take, to impress
                             • ocean affronting all reason. It is a chunk of          yourself with their reality, and to greet them .
                             chaos pounded into visibility ex nihilo, here               You walk among clattering four-foot marine
                             rough, here smooth, shaped just so by a matrix           iguanas heaped on the shore lava, and on each
                             of physical necessities too weird to contemplate,        other, like slag. You swim with penguins; you
                             here instead of there, here instead of not at all.       watch flightless cormorants dance beside you,
                             It is a fantastic utterance, as though I were to         ignoring you, waving the black nubs of their
Annie Dillard, a con-        open my mouth and emit a French horn, or a               useless wings. Here are nesting blue-footed boo-
tributing editor of Harp-    vase, or a knob of tellurium. It smacks of folly,        bies, real birds with real feathers, whose legs
er's, is the author of
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek      of first causes.                                         and feet are nevertheless patently fake, manu-
(Harper's       Magazine        I think of the island called Daphnecita, little       factured by MatteI. The tortoises you touch are
Press).                      Daphne, on which I never set foot. It's in half          as big as stoves. The enormous land iguanas at
  74
your feet change color in the sunlight, from gold         The hawk, which is not notab~y sociable, never-             "The animals
to blotchy .red as you watch.                             theless endures even a blundermg approach, and
    There is always some creature going about its         is apparently as content to perch on a scrub tree           have not been
beautiful business. I missed the boat back to my          at your shoulder as anyplace else.                          persecuted,
ship, and was left behind momentarily on unin-                In the Galapagos, even the flies are tame.              and show no
habited South Plaza Island because I was watch-           Although most of the land is Ecuadorian nation-             f      f
ing the Audubon's shearwaters. These dark pe-                                        .
                                                          a I par k , an d as sue h nglidly protecte, d I con f ess     ear 0 man.
lagic birds flick along pleated seas in stitching         I gave the evolutionary ball an offsides shove              You pass among
flocks, flailing their wings rapidly-because        if    by dispatching every fly that bit. me, marveling            them as though
 they don't, they'll stall. A shearwater must fly         the while at its pristine ignorance, its blithe fail-       you were wind
fast, or not at all. Consequently it has evolved          ure to register a flight trigger at the sweep of               . dri        '
two nice behaviors which serve to bring it into           my descending hand-an           insouciance that was        SpIll ift, sun-
 its nest alive. The nest is a shearwater-sized hole      almost, but not quite, disarming. After you kill            light, leaves."
in the lava cliff. The shearwater circles over the        a fly, you pick it up and feed it to a lava lizard,
water, ranging out from the nest a ,quarter of a          a bright-throated four-inch creature that scav-
mile, and veers gradually toward the cliff, mak-          enges everywhere in the arid lowlands. And you
ing passes at its nest. If the flight angle is pre-       walk on, passing among the innocent mobs on
cisely right, the bird will fold its wings at the         every rock hillside; or you sit, and they come to
hole's entrance and stall directly onto its floor.        you.
The angle is perhaps seldom right, however; one
shearwater I watched made a dozen suicidal-
looking passes before it vanished into a chink.          '~TE       ARE STRANGERS and sojourners, soft dots
The other, alternative, behavior is spectacular.            , 'on the rocks. You have walked along the
 It involves choosing the nest hole in a site below        strand and seen where birds have landed,
a prominent rock with a downward-angled face.              walked, and flown; their tracks begin in sand,
The shearwater comes careering in full tilt, claps         and go, and suddenly end. Our tracks do that:
its wings, stalls itself into the rock, and the rock,      but we go down. And stay down. While we're
acting as a backboard, banks it home.                      here, during the seasons our tents are pitched
    The animals are tame. They have not been               in the light, we pass among each other crying
persecuted, and show no fear of man. You pass              "greetings" in a thousand tongues, and "wel-
among them as though you were wind, spindrift,             come," and "goodbye." Inhabitants of un-
sunlight, leaves. The songbirds are tame. On             . crowded colonies tend to offer the stranger fa-
Hood Island I sat beside a nesting waved alba-             mously warm hospitality-and      such are the Ga-
tross while a mockingbird scratched in my hair,            lapagos sea lions. Theirs is the greeting the first
another mockingbird jabbed at my fingernail,               creatures must have given Adam-a hero's wel-
and a third mockingbird made an exquisite pro-             come, a universal and undeserved huzzah. Go,
gression of pokes at my bare feet up the long              and be greeted by sea lions.
series of eyelets in my basketball shoes. The                  I was sitting under a ledge of pewter cloud
marine iguanas are tame. One settler, Carl An-             with Soames Summerhays, the ship's naturalist,
germeyer, built his house on the site of a marine          on a sand beach under cliffs on uninhabited
iguana colony. The gray iguanas, instead of                Hood Island. The white beach was a havoc of
moving out, moved up on the roof, which is                 lava boulders black as clinkers, sleek with spray,
corrugated steel. Twice daily on the patio, An-            and lambent as brass in the sinking sun. To our
germeyer feeds them a mixture of boiled rice               left a dozen sea lions were body-surfing in the
and tuna fish from a plastic basin. Their names            long green combers that rose, translucent, half
are all, unaccountably, Annie. Angermeyer beats            a mile offshore. When the combers broke, the
on the basin with a long-handled spoon, calling            shoreline boulders rolled. I could feel the roar
Here AnnieAnnieAnnieAnnie-and              the spiny       in the rough rock on which I sat; I could hear
reptiles, fifty or sixty strong, click along the steel     the grate inside each long backsweeping sea, the
roof, finger their way down the lava boulder and           rumble of a rolled million rocks muffled in
mortar walls, and swarm round his bare legs to             splashes and the seethe before the next wave's
elbow into the basin and be elbowed out again              heave.
smeared with a mash of boiled rice on their bel-              To our right, a sea lion slipped from the
lies and on their protuberant, black, plated lips.         ocean. It was a young bull; in another few years
    The wild hawk is tame. The Galapagos hawk              he would be more dangerous, bellowing at in-
is related to North America's Swainson's hawk;             truders and biting off great dirty chunks of the
I have read that, if you take pains, you can walk          ones he catches. Now this young bull, which
up and pat it. I never tried. We people don't              weighed maybe 120 pounds, sprawled silhouet-
walk up and pat each other; enough is enough.              ted in the late light, slick as a drop of quick-
The animals' critical distance and mine tended             silver, his glistening whiskers radii of gold like
to coincide, so we could enjoy an easy sociability         any crown. He hauled his packed bulk toward
without threat of violence or unwonted intimacy.           us up the long beach; he flung himself with an
                                                                                                                                     77
Annie Dillard   enormous surge of fur-clad muscle onto the               of giant tortoises. The whalers used to let the
                boulder where I sat. "Soames," I said-very               tortoises bang around on deck for a few days to
INNOCENCE       quietly-"he's     here because we're here, isn't         empty their guts; then they stacked them below
    IN THE      he?" The naturalist nodded. I felt water drip            on their backs to live-if you call that living-
GALAPAGOS       on my elbow hehind me, then the fragile scrape           without food or water for a year.
                of whiskers, and finally the wet warmth and                 Early inhabitants in the islands were a desic-
                weight of a muzzle, as the creature settled to           cated assortment of grouches, cranks, and ship's
                sleep on my arm. I was catching on to sea lions.         deserters. These hardies shot, enslaved, and poi-
                   Walk into the water. Instantly sea lions sur-         soned each other off, leaving hehind a fecund
                round you, even if none has been in sight. To            gang of feral goats, cats, dogs, and pigs whose
                say that they come to play with you is not espe-         descendants skulk in the sloping jungles and
                cially anthropomorphic. Animals play. The bull           take their tortoise hatchlings neat. Now scien-
                sea lions are off patrolling their territorial shores;   tists at the Charles Darwin Research Station, on
                these are the cows and young, which range freely.        the island of Santa Cruz, rear the tortoise hatch-
                A five-foot sea lion peers intently into your face,      lings for several years until their shells are tough
                then urges her muzzle gently against your under-         enough to resist the crunch; then they release
                water mask and searches your eyes without                them in the wilds of their respective islands.
                blinking. Next she rolls upside down and slides
                along the length of your floating body, rolls
                again, and casts a long glance back at your eyes.
                You are, I believe, supposed to follow, and think
                up something clever in return. You can play
                games with sea lions in the water using shells,
                or bits of leaf, if you are willing. You can spin
                on your vertical axis, and a sea lion will swim
                circles around you, keeping his face always six
                inches from yours, as though he were tethered.
                You can make a game of touching their back
                flippers, say, and the sea lions will understand
                at once; somersaulting conveniently before your
                clumsy hands, they will give you an excellent
                field of back flippers.
                   And when you leave the water, they follow.
                They porpoise to the shore, popping their heads
                up when they lose you and casting about, then
                speeding to your side and emitting a choked
                series of vocal notes. If you won't relent, they
                disappear, harking; but if you sit on the heach
                with so much as a foot in the water, two or three
                will station with you, ftoating on their backs and
                saying, VIT.

                                                          Pioneers

                V   EW PEOPLE COME to the Galapagos. Buc-
                Icaneers used to anchor in the bays to avoid
                pursuit, to rest, and to lighter on fresh water.
                The world's whaling ships stopped here as well, .'rl
                to glut their holds with fresh meat in the form ~'




                 Martlm   Avlllez
78
                                                          he also knows botany and zoology. He feeds us "You come for
                                                          ~?Up,.c~icken worth chew~ng for, green nar~-      the animals.
                                                          jilla Jillce, noodles, pork In big chunks, mart-
                                                          nated mixed vegetables, rice, and bowl after You co~e to see
                                                          bowl of bright mixed fruits.                      the CurIOUS
                                                               And his white-haired Norwegian. mo.ther sees shapes soft pro-
                                                          us off; our beasts are ready. We WIll nde down teins can take
                                                          the mud forest track to the truck at the Ecua-.                   '
                                                          dorian settlement, down the long, long road to to Impress your-
                                                          the boat, and across the bay to the ship. I lean self with their
                                                          down to catch her words. She is gazing at me reality and to
                                                             .
                                                          WIth enormous warmt.h "Your hair," she says
                                                                                             air,                   '
                                                                                                                 t th     "
                                                          softly. I am blonde. Adios.                       gree      em.

                                                                                  II
                                                             HARLES    DARWIN   came to the Galapagos in
                                                          C 1835, marine Beagle; he far astwenty-six. into
                                                          threw the
                                                                    on the
                                                                           iguanas as
                                                                                      was
                                                                                           he could
                                                                                                       He

                                                          the water; he rode the tortoises and sampled
                                                          their meat. He noticed that the tortoise's cara-
                                                          paces varied wildly from island to island; so also
                                                          did the forms of various mockingbirds. He made
                                                          collections. Nine years later he wrote in a letter,
                                                          "I am almost convinced (quite contrary to the
                                                          opinion I started with) that species are not (it
                                                          is like confessing a murder) immutable." In
                                                          1859 he published On the Origin of Species, and
                                                          in 1871 The Descent of Man. It is fashionable
                                                          now to disparage Darwin's originality; not even
    Some few thousand people live on three of the         the surliest of his detractors, however, faults his
    islands; settlers from Ecuador, Norway, Ger-          painstaking methods or denies his impact.
    many, and France make a livestock or pineapple           Darwinism today is more properly called neo-
    living from the rich volcanic soils. The settlers     Darwinism. It is organic evolutionary theory in-
    themselves seem to embody a high degree of            formed by the spate of new data from modern
    courteous and conscious humanity, perhaps be-         genetics, molecular biology, paleobiology-from
    cause of their relative isolation.                    the new wave of the biologic revolution which
        On the island of Santa Cruz, eleven fellow        spread after Darwin's announcement like a tsu-
    passengers and I climb into an open truck and         nami. The data are not all in. Crucial first ap-
    bump for an hour up the Galapagos's only long         pearances of major invertebrate groups are miss-
    road to visit Alf Kastdalen. Where the road's         ing from the fossil record-but         these early
    ascent ends, native villagers leave their muddy       fOnDS, sometimes modified larvae, tended to be
    soccer game to provide horses, burros, and mules      fragile either by virtue of their actual malleabil-
    which bear us lurching up a jungle path to a          ity or by virtue of their scarcity and rapid varia-
    mountain clearing, to the isolate Kastdalen farm.     tion into "hardened," successful forms. Lack of
       AU Kastdalen came to the islands as a child        proof in this direction doesn't worry scientists.
    with his immigrant parents from Norway. Now           What neo-Darwinism seriously lacks, however,
    a broad, blond man in his late forties, he lives      is a precise description of the actual mechanism
    with his mother and his Ecuadorian wife and           of mutation in the chromosomal nucleotides,
    their children in a solitary house of finished tim-      In the larger sense, neo-Darwinism also lacks,
    bers imported from the mainland, on 400 acres         for many, sheer plausibility. The triplet splen-
    he claimed from the jungle by hand. He raises         dors of random mutation, natural selection, and
    cattle. He walks us round part of his farm, smil-     Mendelian inheritance are neither energies nor
I   ing expansively and meeting our chatter with a        gods; the words merely describe a gibbering
    willing, open gaze and kind words. The pasture        tumult of materials. Many things are unex-
    looks like any pasture-but     the rocks under the    plained, many discrepancies unaccounted for.
    grass are round lava, the copses are a tangle of      Appending a very modified neo-Lamarckism to
    thorny bamboo and bromeliads, and the border-         Darwinism would solve many problems-and
    ing trees dripping in epiphytes are breadfruit,       create new ones. Neo-Lamarckism holds, without
    papaya, avocado, and orange.                          any proof, that certain useful acquired charac-
       Kastdalen's house is heaped with books in          teristics may be inherited. Read C. H. Wadding-
    three languages. He knows animal husbandry;           ton, The Strategy of the Genes, and Arthur
                                                                                                                         79
Annie Dillard Koestler, The Ghost in the Machine. The La-             holy freedom and awareness that is creation's
               marckism/Darwinism issue is not only complex,          beginning and end. And so forth. Like tortoises,
INNOCENCE      hinging perhaps on whether DNA can be copied           like languages, ideas evolve. And they evolve,
    IN THE     from RNA, but also emotionally and politically         as Arthur Koestler suggests, not from hardened
GALAPAGOS      hot. The upshot of it all is that while a form of      final forms, but from the softest plasmic germs
               Lamarckism recently held sway in Russia, neo-          in a cell's heart, in the nub of a word's root, in
               Darwinism is supreme in the West, and its basic        the supple flux of an open mind.
               assumptions, though variously modified, are not            Darwin gave us time. Before Darwin (and
               overthrown.                                            Huxley, Wallace, et al.) there was in the nine-
                   Fundamentalist Christians, of course, still re-    teenth century what must have been a fairly un-
               ject Darwinism because it conflicts with the cre-      settling period in which people knew about fos-
               ation account in Genesis. Fundamentalist Chris-        sils of extinct species, but did not yet know about
               tians have a very bad press. Ill-feeling surfaces      organic evolution. They thought the fossils were
               when, from time to time in small Southern towns        litter from a series of past creations. At any rate,
               they object again to the public schools' teaching      for many, this creation, the world as we know
               evolutionary theory. Tragically, these people feel     it, had begun in 4004 B.C., a date set by the
               they have to make a choice between the Bible           Irish Archbishop James Ussher in the seven-
               and modern science. They live and work in the          teenth century. We were all crouched in a small
               same world we do, and know the derision they           room against the comforting back wall, awaiting
               face from people whose areas of ignorance are          the millennium which had been gathering im-
               perhaps different, who dismantled their mangers        petus since Adam and Eve. Up there was a uni-
               when they moved to town and threw out the baby         verse, and down here would be a small strip of
               with the straw.                                        man come and gone, created, taught, redeemed,
                   Even less appealing in their response to the       and gathered up in a bright twinkling, like a
               new evolutionary picture were, and are, the            sprinkling of confetti torn from colored papers,
               social Darwinists. Social Darwinists seized Her-       tossed from windows, and swept from the streets
               bert Spencer's phrase "the survival of the fit-        by morning.
               test," applied it to capitalism, and used it to            The Darwinian revolution knocked out the
                sanction ruthless and corrupt business practices.     back wall, revealing eerie lighted landscapes as
               A social Darwinist is unlikely to identify him-        far back as we can see. Almost at once, Albert
                self by the term; social Darwinism is, as the say-    Einstein and astronomers with reflector tele-
                ing goes, not a religion but a way of life. A mod-    scopes and radio telescopes knocked out the
                ern social Darwinist wrote the slogan "If you're      other walls and the ceiling, leaving us sunlit, ex-
                so smart, why ain't you rich?" The notion still       posed, and drifting-leaving       us puckers, albeit
                obtains, I believe, wherever people seek power:       evolving puckers, on the inbound curve of space-
                that the race is to the swift, that everybody is in   time.
                the race, with varying and merited degrees of                                 III
                success or failure, and that reward is its own
                                                                         TALL BEGAN    in the Galapagos, with these fin-
                virtue.
                   Philosophy reacted to Darwin with unaccus-         Iches. The finchesthey the Galapagos are the is-
                                                                      Darwin's finches;
                                                                                          in
                                                                                             are everywhere in
                                                                                                                called
               tomed good cheer. William Paley's fixed and
               harmonious universe was gone, and with it its          lands, sparrowlike, and almost identical but for
               meticulous watchmaker god. Nobody mourned.             their differing beaks. At first Darwin scarcely
                Instead, philosophy shrugged and turned its at-       noticed their importance. But by 1839, when he
                tention from first and final causes to analysis of    revised his journal of the Beagle voyage, he
                certain values here in time. "Faith in progress,"     added a crucial sentence about the finches'
               the man-in-the-street philosophy, collapsed in two     beaks: "Seeing this gradation and diversity of
                world wars. Philosophers were more guarded;           structure in one small, intimately related group
                pragmatically, they held a very refined "faith        of birds, one might really fancy that from an
                in process"-which,     it would seem, could hardly    original paucity of birds in this archipelago,
                lose. Christian thinkers, too, outside of Funda-      one species had been taken and modified for
                mentalism, examined with fresh eyes the world's       different ends." And so it was.
                burgeoning change. Some Protestants, taking               The finches come when called. I don't know
                their cue from Whitehead, posited a dynamic           why it works, but it does. Scientists in the Gala-
                god who lives alongside the universe, himself         pagos have passed down the call: you say psssssh
                charged and changed by the process of becom-          psssssh psssssh psssssh psssssh until you run out
                ing. The Catholic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin,         of breath; then you say it again until the island
                a paleontologist, examined the evolution of spe-      runs out of birds. You stand on a flat of sand
                cies itself, and discovered in that flow a surge      by a shallow lagoon rimmed in mangrove thick-
                 toward complexity and consciousness, a free           ets and call the birds right out of the sky. It
                ascent capped with man and propelled from             works anywhere, from island to island.
                within and attracted from without by god, the             Once, on the island of James, I was standing

80
  propped against a leafless palo santo tree on a                             IV                          "Like boys on
  semiarid inland slope when the naturalist called                                                         dolphins, the
  the hirds.                                                ow LET ME CARRY MATTERS to an imaginary,
     From other leafless palo santo trees flew the     N    and impossible, extreme. If the earth were     continents ride
  yellow warhlers, speckling the air with hright       one unified island, a smooth ball, we would all their crustal
  bounced sun. Gray mockingbirds came running.         he one species, a tremulous muck. The fact is plates. New
  And from the green prickly pear cactus, from         that when you get down to this business of species
                                                                                                           lands shoulder
  the thorny acacias, sere grasses, bracken, and       formation, you eventually hit some form of re-
  manzanilla, from the loose hlack lava, the bare      productive isolation. Cells tend to fuse. Cells up from the
  dust, the fern-hung mouths of caverns or the         tend to engulf each other; primitive creatures waves, and old
  tops of sunlit logs-came the finches. They fell      tend to move in on each other and on us, to lands buckle
  in from every direction like colored bits in a       colonize, aggregate, hlur. (Within species, in-
  turning kaleidoscope. They circled and homed to      dividuals have evolved immune reactions, which
                                                                                                           under. Change
  a vortex, like a whirlwind of chips, like draining   help preserve individual integrity; you might       burgeons into
 water. The tree on which I leaned was the vor-        reject my liver-or,   someday, my brain.) As change."
 tex. A dry series of puffs hit my cheeks. Then a        much of the world's energy seems to be devoted
 rough pulse from the tree's thin trunk met my           to keeping us apart as was directed to hring-
 hand and rang up my arm-and           another, and      ing us here in the first place. All sorts of dif-
 another. The tree trunk agitated against my             ferent creatures can mate and produce fertile
 palm like a captured cricket: I looked up. The          offspring: two species of snapdragon, for in-
 lighting birds were rocking the tree. It was an         stance, or mallard and pintail ducks. But they
 appearing act: before there were barren                 don't. When you scratch the varying hehaviors
 branches; now there were birds like leaves.             and conditions behind reproductive isolation,
     Darwin's finches are not brightly colored; they     you find, ultimately, geographical isolation.
 are black, gray, brown, or faintly olive. Their         Once the isolation has occurred, of course, forms
 names are even duller: the large ground finch,          harden out, enforcing reproductive isolation, so
 the medium ground finch, the small ground               that snapdragons will never mate with pintail
 finch; the large insectivorous tree finch; the          ducks.
 vegetarian tree finch; the cactus ground finch,            Geography is the key, the crucial accident of
 and SO forth. But the beaks are interesting, and       birth. A piece of protein could be a snail, a sea
 the beaks' origins even more so.                       lion, or a systems analyst, hut it had to start
    Some wield chunky parrot beaks modified for         somewhere. This is not science; it is metaphor.
cracking seeds. Some have slender warhler               And the landscape in which the protein "starts"
beaks, short for nabhing insects, long for proh-        shapes its end as surely as bowls shape water.
ing plants. One sports the long chisel heak of a            We have all, as it were, blown back together
woodpecker; it bores wood for insect grubs and          like the finches, and it's hard to imagine the iso-
 often uses a twig or cactus spine, like a pickle       lation from parent species in which we evolved.
 fork, when the gruh won't dislodge. They have all      The frail beginnings of great phyla are lost in
evolved, fanwise, from one ancestral population.        the crushed histories of cells. Now we see the
    The finches evolved in isolation. So did every-     embellishments of random chromosomal muta-
thing else on earth. With the finches, you can          tions selected by natural selection and preserved
see how it happened. The Galapagos Islands are          in geographically isolate gene pools as faits ac-
near enough to the mainland that some strays            complis, as the differentiated fringe of brittle
could hazard there; they are far enough away            knobs that is life as we know it. The process
that those strays could evolve in isolation from        is still going on, but there is no turning back. It
parent species. And the separate islands are near      happened, in the cells; geographical determina-
enough to each other for further dispersal, fur-        tion is not the cow-caught-in-a-crevice business
ther isolation, and the eventual reassembling of        I make it seem. I'm dealing in imagery, working
distinct species. (In other words, finches blew to      toward a picture.
the Galapagos, blew to various islands, evolved            Geography is life's limiting factor. Speciation
into differing species, and hlew hack together         -life itself-is ultimately a matter of warm and
again.] The tree finches and the ground finches,       cool currents, rich and hare soils, deserts and
the woodpecker finch and the warbler finch,             forests, fresh and salt waters, deltas and jungles
veered into being on isolated rocks. The witless       and plains. Species arise in isolation. A plaster
green sea shaped those beaks as surely as it           cast is as intricate as its mold; life is a gloss on
shaped the beaches. Now on the finches in the          geography. And if you dig your fists into the
palo santo tree you see adaptive radiation's reo       earth and crumble geography, you strike geolo-
sults, a fluorescent splay of horn. It is as though    gy. Climate is the wind of the mineral earth's
an archipelago were an arpeggio, a rapid series        rondure, tilt, and orbit modified by local geo- _
of distinct but related notes. If the Galapagos        logical conditions. The Pacific Ocean, the Negev
had been one unified island, there would be one        Desert, and the rain forest of Brazil are local
dull note, one super-dull finch.                       geological conditions. So are the slow carp pools

                                                                                                                       81
   Annie Dillard       and splashing trout rifBes of any backyard             floating islands, shaky ground.
                       creek. It is all, God help us, a matter of rocks.         So the rocks shape life, and then life shapes
  INNOCENCE               The rocks shape life like hands around swell-       life, and the rocks are moving. The completed
      IN THE           ing dough. In Virginia, the salamanders vary           picture needs one more element: life shapes the
  GALAPAGOS            from mountain ridge to mountain ridge; so do           rocks.
                       the fiddle tunes the old men play. These are not          Life is more than a live green scum on a dead
                       merely anomalous details. This is what life is all     pool, a shimmering scurf like slime mold on
                       about: salamanders, fiddle tunes, you and me           rock. Look at the planet. Everywhere freedom
                       and things, the split and burr of it all, the fizz     twines its way around necessity, inventing new
                       into particulars. No mountains and one sala-           strings of occasions, lassoing time and putting
                       mander, one fiddle tune, would be a lesser world.      it through its varied and spirited paces. Every-
                       No continents, no fiddlers. The earth, without         where live things lash at the rocks. Softness is
                       form, is void.                                         vulnerable, but it has a will; tube worms bore
                                                                              and coral atolls rise. Lichens in delicate lobes
                                                                              are chewing the granite mountains; forests in
                                                        A bright snarl        serried ranks trammel the hills. Man has more
                                                                              freedom than other live things; anti-entropically,
                       T    HE MOUNTAIN S are time's machines; in effect,     he batters a bigger dent in the given, damming
                        • they roll out protoplasm like printer's rollers     the rivers, planting the plains, drawing in his
                       pressing out news. But life is already part of the     mind's eye dotted lines between the stars.
                       landscape, a limiting factor in space; life, too,
                       shapes life. Geology's rocks and climate have
                       already become Brazil's rain forest, yielding          T HE OLD ARK'S a moverin', Each live thing
                       shocking bright birds. To say that all life is an      I wags its home waters, rumples the turf, re-
                       interconnected membrane, a weft of linkages            arranges the air. The rocks press out proto-
                       like chain mail, is truism. But in this case, too,     plasm; the protoplasm pummels the rocks. It
                       the Galapagos Islands afford a clear picture.          could be that this is the one world, and that
                           On Santa Cruz Island, for instance, the sad-       world a bright snarl.
                       dleback carapaces of tortoises enable them to             Like boys on dolphins, the continents ride
                       stretch high and reach the succulent pads of           their crustal plates. New lands shoulder up from
                       prickly pear cactus. But the prickly pear cactus       the waves, and old lands buckle under. The very
                       on that island, and on other tortoise islands, has     landscapes heave; change burgeons into change.
                       evolved a tall treelike habit; those lower pads        Gray granite bobs up, red clay compresses, yel-
                       get harder to come by. Without limiting factors,       low sandstone tilts, surging in forests, incised
                       the two populations could stretch right into the       by streams. The mountains tremble, the ice rasps
                       stratosphere.                                          back and forth, and the protoplasm furls in
                           9a va. It goes on everywhere, tit for tat, ac-     shock waves, up the rock valleys and down,
                       tion and reaction, triggers and inhibitors as-         ramifying possibilities, riddling the mountains.
                       cending in a spiral like spatting butterflies. With-   Life and the rocks, like spirit and matter, are
                       in life, we are pushing each other around. How         a fringed matrix, lapped and lapping, clasping
                       many animal forms have evolved just so because         and held. It is like hand washing hand. It is like
                       there are, for instance, trees? We pass the nitro-     hand washing hand and the whole tumult hurled.
                       gen around, and other vital gases; we feed and         The planet spins, rapt inside its intricate mists.
                       nest, plucking this and that and planting seeds.       The galaxy is a flung thing, loose in the night,
                       The protoplasm responds, nudged and nudging,           and our solar system is one of its many dotted
                       bearing the news.                                      campfires ringed with tossed rocks. What shall
                           And the rocks themselves shall be moved. The       we sing?
                       rocks themselves are not pure necessity, given,           What shall we sing, while the fire burns down?
                       like vast, complex molds around which the rest         We can sing only specifics, time's rambling tune,
                        of us swirl. They heave to their own necessities,     the places we have seen, the faces 'we have
                       to stirrings and prickings from within and with-        known. I will sing you the Galapagos Islands,
                        out.                                                   the sea lions soft on the rocks. It's all still hap-
                           The mountains are no more fixed than the           pening there, in real light, the cool currents up-
                        stars, Granite, for example, contains much oxy-       welling, the .finches falling on the wind, the
                        gen and is relatively light. It "floats." When         shearwaters looping the waves. I could go back,
                        granite forms under the earth's crust, great           or I could go on; or I could sit down, like Kubla
                        chunks of it bob up, I read somewhere, like            Khan:
                        dumplings. The continents themselves are beau-
                        tiful pea-green boats. The Galapagos archipelago            Weave a circle round him thrice,
                        as a whole is surfing toward Ecuador; South                  And close rour eres with holy dread,
HARPER'S   MAGAZINE     America is sliding toward the Galapagos; North               For he on honey-dew hath fed,
            MAY 1975    America, too, is sailing westward. We're on                 And drunk the milk of Paradise.              0

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