Imagining Darwin 4: In the Galapagos


Imagining Darwin 4: In the Galapagos

On October 18th, 1835 Darwin was camped on St James Island (Isla Santiago) in the Galapagos Archipelago, where he’d been exploring and gathering specimens. He and the crewmen who came with him were now waiting for the Beagle to return for them after finishing its surveying cruise around the islands. That night Halley’s Comet appeared in the sky, on time for its 75-year rendezvous with the inner solar system.

One of the sailors saw the comet as a bad omen and forecast dangers for the voyage ahead. Darwin argued with him that Halley’s Comet was nothing more than a celestial body that circled the Sun just as the Earth did. It was named Halley’s comet for the astronomer who first discovered its periodicity and predicted its return. The sailor challenged Darwin to say what the comet was made of, but he had no answer because at that time the composition of comets was a matter of conjecture.












[Author’s Note: I’m working on a novel set during Darwin’s voyage on board the Beagle. In order to find my way imaginatively into his world, I’ve been creating dioramas out of my kids’ old toys, illustrating key moments in Darwin’s life (something like the collages I made when I was working on my novel Salamander, but in 3D this time). Over the next few days, starting today on Darwin’s birthday, I’ll be posting images of these dioramas. While working on this project it’s really struck me how Darwin’s life and discoveries can be seen as iconic of the creative person’s quest in any field: keeping one’s eyes and one’s mind open to new possibilities, even if they fly in the face of what we’re supposed to accept as truth about reality.]

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