Dangerous Islands…

Volcanic landscape of the Galapagos
Volcanic landscape of the Galapagos

When I was a child, I belonged to the Weekly Reader Book Club.  I still remember the titles of some of the books.  One I loved was Dangerous Island written in 1956 by Helen Mather-Smith Mindin.  For some reason, I remembered this tale of children marooned on a sinking  island while I was in  the Galapagos, over 50 years later.

The cover of the book is just as I remembered it.
The cover of the book is just as I remembered it.

Maybe it was the landscape. The Galapagos Islands are not pretty, they are volcanic.  Not threatening, but inhospitable, for pampered humans like me.  September is the end of the dry season and most of the scrawny trees looked dead. One of the first trees that wasn’t dead had a fantastic name:  Poison Apple Tree. All parts are poison, according to our naturalist-guide. I’m pretty sure it was endemic (see previous blog post).

The children in Dangerous Island had no trees, just rocks, and little to cling to.  That’s what happens when you build a raft and it becomes unmoored. Sort of like the House of Representatives, minus the raft.

It was hard to come back from a place where there were odd trees, iguanas and blue-footed boobies.  And last week, what with the debt ceiling and the toddler-minded Republicans in the House of Representatives, I wished for a poison apple tree or two.

To assuage my feelings of despondency over the state our democracy and of no longer getting up in the morning to discover the Galapagos,  I re-read Dangerous Island.  I was struck by one sentence in particular.  When the kids were rescued by helicopter (that was big stuff in the 1950s), the townspeople and rescuers discussed  why their little island had sunk into the sea. The mystery was why it popped up and then disappeared.  “There are some things in nature we can’t explain,” one of the adults ventured.

We’ve learned some things about nature since the 1950s.  Genomes have been mapped and subatomic particles have been discovered. Sinking islands can probably be explained. But some of us are still debating Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and Natural Selection, formulated in the Galapagos, where I saw the living proof on my journey, both in plants and animals.

I may be wrong, but I think many of the evolution non-believers are part of the group that reveled in shutting down the government because they objected to health care for all.

It all comes full circle, in my mind at least, and there are many things we still can’t explain. Sinking islands maybe,  but human behavior is  a mystery.

Charles Darwin and me
Charles Darwin and me

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Retired journalist, writer, editor and teacher. Our lives were lived in the Washington DC area, but I was born in upstate New York. Love nature, birding and reading. Volunteer at Ding Darling NWR . Proud mom of two, married to a wildlife photographer.

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