Galapagos and Beyond
Adventurous travels have defined part of my artist’s life: Paris & Europe as a solo traveler in 1972, Tuscany on and off- 1996 & 2012, for example. Galapagos in 2014 because life is short and seas are rising. And always, sketching as a way of seeing, understanding, of taking me back to specific times and places. Essays, an exploration, not of reportage (like those old slides shows that used to drive my dad to drink and boredom) but to the connections between time and place, then and now.
A moon appeared one day, impossibly plump and stark against vivid skies. All creatures reveled, sunned themselves, cavorted, slid in and out of warm waters. Several humans joined them in the sea, flippered and masked to explore what couldn’t be seen from bobbing zodiacs, engines stilled. Currents were swift, and divers, tempted to follow a tortoise, seal, or iguana, had to be cautious. Heat lingered above the water, as if tempted to kiss, but too shy.
Tropical sun disappeared into the sea as adventurers settled in after cocktails and a lavish dinner. The crew readied the sixteen-passenger catamaran for a night crossing from one ancient volcanic island to another.
Waves slapped the sides of the vessel, a gentle and reassuring sound in concert with engines. I sank exhausted and happy into the only chair on a tiny deck.
We’d crossed the Equator earlier, my first time, and in fact my first in open seas. Should have been intimidating, so deep, so unknown. I both thrilled at and resented the moon, which like urban light pollution, had rendered the stars invisible.
The moon, as if a contrarian, dominated each and every star in the heavens, ravishing each wave with light, as if in defiance of the black sea below.
Aging, I thought, “trip of a lifetime:” how cliché. Seas are rising, Darwin’s finches are adapting, and finally, life’s so… From the deep by the side of the ship, a dolphin’s shadowy form appeared, but only fleeting.
Just a few days earlier, we’d all flown to Equador, and had visited the highest point of Quito, a breathless 11,000 feet. In every direction, shanties poured like lava over steep volcanic slopes.
That evening in Quito, only two wanted dinner. I’d come because of Mary, the director of a zoo. Jane, an old family friend was my cabin mate. The next day, we were to fly back to sea level, to the Galapagos Islands.
None of the three of us, in the prime of health and enthusiasm for the adventure ahead, had a clue that this would be the last dinner for one of us.
Now sea breezes took me back to the first night on the ship. As others unpacked, Jane and I had ordered the bartender’s specialty, and had raced to the top deck chaises. Jane had raised a toast to the magnificence of Galapagos tortoises we’d seen that day. Frigate birds, coasting the boat’s slipstream, looked down on the pair. Finally, feeling that we shouldn’t appear antisocial, we descended to the salon.
Fourteen silent and grim passengers lined benches. Too often annoyingly outspoken, flip words died in her mouth. She did not say, “What’s happened? You look like somebody died.”