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 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
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
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
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 ~'
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
t th "
softly. I am blonde. Adios. gree em.
HARLES DARWIN came to the Galapagos in
C 1835, marine Beagle; he far astwenty-six. into
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
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-
Philosophy reacted to Darwin with unaccus- Iches. The finchesthey the Galapagos are the is-
are everywhere in
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
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
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
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
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