Journal (Part Three)
in a pinch
Writer, adventurer and three-time Guinness World
Record holder Dan Buettner recently spent some time studying the
ecologically challenged Galápagos Islands. Here, from
his journal, are some impressions.
you go to the Galápagos Islands looking for excitement, you've
made a mistake.
Don't get me wrong; things happen fast here. Evolution,
for example, happens faster here than perhaps anyplace else on earth.
Darwin finches have evolved into 13 different species in record
time. Then again, that took many thousands of years.
The wildlife here is awesome! Where else can you see
sofa-size tortoises, dinosaur-faced marine iguanas and birds with
blue feet that look like rubber flippers? The first time you see
these marvels of nature, you're floored. You ogle, then shoot off
a couple rolls of film. The second time you see them you glance
and take a picture. The third time, which could very well happen
on your first day, you shrug and think to yourself, "Yep, another
500-pound tortoise ... when's lunch?"
We've been to six islands in our effort to retrace
Darwin's route. Each of the islands offers some combination of essentially
the same famous animals sea lions, flightless cormorants,
penguins, tortoises, blue-footed boobies and marine iguanas.
Sure, animals vary somewhat from island to island.
For example, marine iguanas of Española are red, while on
other islands they're black. They still look the same, though. To
all but a science teacher, the differences might not mean much.
his Web site.)
But they do help tell a big story the story
Yet to someone like me, who favors fast mountain biking
over bird watching, day after day of incredible animals tends to
inspire, well, yawns.
Then something happened. We stopped at Punta Espinosa
on Fernandina Island. It is the best place to view flightless
cormorants in the Galápagos. But, since I've seen about 200
flightless cormorants already, I sat out the tour. I found a comfortable
rock and waited for the rest of the team.
Five, 10, 15 minutes passed. I looked down at the
porous volcanic rock under my shoe. It reminded me of the pumice
that my grandma used to scrub corns off of her feet. I wonder
if it came from here? I thought.
I suddenly noticed a lava lizard sitting right next
to me. It had been there the whole time, sitting motionless, exquisitely
camouflaged, awaiting some unsuspecting insect. How did it get to
be the exact color of the lava instead of say, hot pink? Trial and
A moment later, a Sally Lightfoot crab swam out of
the sea and skittered past me. It ran sideways with the grace of
a ballerina. All eight legs moved independently, yet in harmony
with all the others.
What incredible coordination, I thought.
Does it have to think about moving each leg or does that just happen?
The crab settled near the waterline of a nearby rock.
Using its spoon-like foreclaws, it began shoveling in algae and
munching it up with its multi-part mouth. It looked like a hungry
kid devouring a bowl of Lucky Charms with a spoon in each hand.
Being a bit of a kid myself, I tried to grab the crab.
He darted backwards into a crack. I, of course, reached in.
The critter snapped down on my finger with hydraulic
strength. I wrestled my bloodied finger out of the crack and knelt
down to confront my opponent. He hunkered down, pincers open, ready
for another attack. I looked him right in the eyes, which sat on
top of his head like tiny marbles. He stared me down, and won! I
retreated to my rock.
A few moments later, the rest of the team came back,
bragging about the pictures they got of yet more sea lions, marine
iguanas and, yes, flightless cormorants.
did you see?" they asked.
"Oh, nothing," I replied, knowing that I
wouldn't be able to explain my simple but fascinating encounter
with the crab. After all, these crabs litter the rocks. Visitors
pretty much ignore them.
It occurred to me that much of the magic of the Galápagos
or anyplace is in the minutiae, the tiny details.
I happened to be watching crabs, but it could have been ants in
Arkansas, worms in Washington or caterpillars in California.
In the critter world, small miracles occur every day.
The gift that the Galápagos has given me is the patience
to slow down and witness them.