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Posts Tagged ‘natural history’

Chaz Darwin

Humanities, the magazine of the NEH, has a fascinating article on Darwin’s voyage aboard the HMS Beagle. The very fact that Darwin was invited on this circumnavigational “cruise” is amazing, a stroke of good luck; normally, aboard a vessel of the British navy, the ship’s doctor would undertake scientific observations. Luckily the Beagle‘s captain, Henslow, thought back to the great James Cook, and the discoveries that were made on his ships by the naturalist Joseph Banks. Darwin’s father didn’t want him to go; Charles was just 22 years old at the time.

We often think about Darwin with his notebook, scribbling details of finches and tortoises; we don’t consider him a “man of action,” but of detailed observation and lengthy meditation. So it comes as a great surprise to learn that he had far more daring adventures than anyone by rights ought to have, 22 or not:

At times he rode out with gauchos, making his way through political rebellions or embarking on shooting expeditions to get meat for Christmas dinner. In Tierra del Fuego, he saved his crewmates by rescuing a rowboat from a tidal wave. He saw stars from the top of the Andes, climbed mountains in Tahiti, felt his blood boil over the slavery that was still legal in Brazil, admired girls in Valparaiso, and splashed around in coral lagoons in search of evidence for their formation. These exploits were all recounted in a wonderful series of letters home to his sisters that still exist in the archive. Over the years, Darwin’s sisters saw his ambitions changing, his confidence emerging. Indeed, they may have discerned how unlikely it was that he would now become a clergyman.

You are definitely encouraged to read more.

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Now this is an amazing story, reported by Johann Hari in The Independent:

Hari writes, “Earlier this year, Peru’s right-wing President, Alan Garcia, sold the rights to explore, log and drill 70 per cent of his country’s swathe of the Amazon to a slew of international oil companies. Garcia seems to see rainforest as a waste of good resources, saying of the Amazon’s trees: ‘There are millions of hectares of timber there lying idle.'”

Now, this is a pretty shocking decision, because the Peruvian Amazon, upriver of Iquitos, is an especially pristine region.

But here’s what happened next:

“The indigenous peoples acted in their own self-defence, and ours. Using their own bodies and weapons made from wood, they blockaded the rivers and roads to stop the oil companies getting anything in or out. They captured two valves of Peru’s sole pipeline between the country’s gas field and the coast, which could have led to fuel-rationing. Their leaders issued a statement explaining: ‘We will fight together with our parents and children to take care of the forest, to save the life of the equator and the entire world.’

Garcia responded by sending in the military. He declared a ‘state of emergency’ in the Amazon, suspending almost all constitutional rights. Army helicopters opened fire on the protesters with live ammunition and stun-grenades. More than a dozen were killed. But the indigenous peoples did not run away. Even though they were risking their lives, they stood their ground. One of their leaders, Davi Yanomami, said simply: ‘The earth has no price. It cannot be bought, or sold or exchanged. It is very important that white people, black people and indigenous peoples fight together to save the life of the forest and the earth. If we don’t fight together, what will our future be?’

And then something extraordinary happened. The indigenous peoples won. The Peruvian Congress repealed the laws that allowed oil company drilling, by a margin of 82 votes to 12. Garcia was forced to apologise for his ‘serious errors and exaggerations’. The protesters have celebrated and returned to their homes deep in the Amazon.”

Read the entire story here. Travel Dynamics International is scheduling three cruises of the Amazon in 2010, and for every guest on these trips, we will be donating funds to The Rainforest Foundation, a nonprofit founded by the pop singer Sting and his wife Trudy Styler for the precise purpose of educating and assisting indigenous tribes of the Amazon to protect the rainforest – just like the peoples of Peru did, above.

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If you are lucky, as you’re sailing with us aboard the Corinthian II in Antarctica, you might catch a glimpse of these absurdly beautiful banded icebergs. Formed by the pressurized compression of ice, plus rapid melting and re-freezing, they are truly stunning to encounter. Click here for some astonishing images.

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