The fundamental question (for Tracers of Darwin’s Path)

“It is hard to get to Cape Horn, a legendary, forbidding place of violent storms, ice and bad telephone service. Why would you ever bother to leave the comforts of family during your precious winter break, and bind together and drag your existential totality to the uttermost end of the world? What’s up with you?”

Amanda Matthews

Cape Horn, the end of the world. What an amazing concept! To get the opportunity to see a place that most will never visit… yeah, I admit, it gives me a thrill. Sure, I could stay safe and warm at home, but how then would I grow? I strive to reach beyond my limits and, hey, the terror is just a part of the ecstasy. To experience the people, the culture, the wildlife, and the wildness are all reasons why I am going on this trip. An easy, simpler answer, though, as to why I am going to Cape Horn is that I have grown up with the travel bug buried deep in my bones. I am never so happy as when I am on a new road leading to undiscovered (at least by me) places. So here’s to my unbeaten path, my uncharted territory, and the beginning of a true adventure. Here’s to discovering new ways of thinking and new ways of being, to living, and to creating change.
Sara Southerland

I think the only things I’ll miss are my keyboards.

Growing up, vacations didn’t include lounging on sandy beaches. We took month long road trips every summer to the mountains and spent days hiking, backpacking and mountain biking. We traveled across the country in search of the most scenic views and the least human interaction. The opportunity for this class and trip sort of fell in my lap when I wrote about it for the UNT newspaper and Kurt sold me on the idea, (it didn’t take much). I am a traveler at heart, and I yearn to explore the unknown; “the forbidden.” It will be amazing to tread through such an untouched area and to see progress and conservation join hands. I don’t think this trip has struck any of our paths by mistake, we are all going for a purpose and I believe it was well guided in its way. I strive to open my mind, body and soul to learn, see, feel, experience, and utterly embrace this new and foreign land; I can’t think of anything I would rather be doing on my winter break.
Allison McCue

Leaving comforts behind and venturing out into the unknown makes me feel so alive. Sometimes I can hardly bear the idea that there is so much out there that I’ve never seen, that I don’t know anything about. We get so wrapped up in five minute treks to Wal-Mart and back, but I want to know what’s beyond that road and that field? What is on the other side of that tree line? I feel the most free when I’m not held back by fences or curbsides; the open road, the one less traveled that is where I want to be. Seeking out the “terra incognita” is something I have never experienced and what most never will. With hardly any known expectations and anxiousness stemming from excitement and mystery I am ready to go to what was just a small smidge on my childhood plastic globe of the earth. Cape Horn is far from my ordinary and chasing its mysteries is exactly where I want to be. To travel to a place that seems so out of reach and to seek it out first hand is as a friend of mine always says, drinking deeply this life that we’ve been given. We were meant for depth, created for meaning and purpose, to venture and find things out on our own. I am ready to take up my anchors and leave the shallow harbor.
Caroline Sanders

I first saw a picture of Cape Horn in an Environmental Ethics class I took led by Ricardo Rozzi and Kurt Heidinger and walked out of class with my best friend saying, “we’re going there. I don’t know how or when, but we’re going.” Here we are a year later only a week away from the trip and I still can’t believe that we actually ARE going there! What are my intentions for traveling to the end of the world as we know it? Because ice and bad telephone service can’t turn me away from an adventure! With the sight of the ice capped mountains surrounding water I was hooked on the idea of setting foot in such a pristine environment. I’ve traveled to Europe twice and all around the country but I am certain that this is going to be an experience to top them all. Leaving so called “comforts” scares me very little. After all, nothing feels more comfortable to me than the smell of a forest andthe sight of a mountain. As for my friends and family…they can miss me more three weeks, because I’m going to the end of the world!
Jen Myers

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I expect to be motivated and rejuvenated in a number of ways in Cape Horn . Traveling, being outdoors is good for you – body, mind and soul. What could be more inspiring than studying Thoreau, improving our writing, and ‘tracing Darwin ’s footsteps’ in a setting as breathtaking as the Omora park? I’m keen to spend three weeks in such an inspirational setting with focused attention on capturing a sense of the place in writing. I’m also extremely interested in the potential for inspiring students through experiential education and I’m looking forward to learning from Kurt and being a part of the process from the initial stages. Field Philosophy is an exciting new innovation and UNT is paving the way through this course and its partnership with the Omora Institute. We’ll be learning as we go – about Chile , writing, and what it means to “walk the talk” and take environmental philosophy outdoors
Kelli Patrice Moses

As a student of biology, I feel it is important to step out of the lab and see nature as it actually exists. It is rare to have a true appreciation for pristine environments and to be a part of something pure and untarnished by civilization. This is a chance to experience the sublime, rather than too just read about it. Someone once told me when I started school, no matter what choices I made in school I should try to take at least one study abroad trip. When I learned about Cape Horn, my stomach sank and for the first time in a long time, I was excited and I new this was the trip for me. I was excited for the chance to travel, to learn, and the see nature as it was intended. I have lived in the same town for all my life and it is time for me take a step into the world.
Pat Sewell

Some things cannot be learned in the classroom – wisdom allergic to brick and mortar, convention and restraint. Too often do we substitute shadows for real life; idols for gods. I have read accounts of living in a shack in rural Wisconsin, accounts both beautiful and wondrous, and they take me to places I long to be. Yet living in the shack would be an entirely different experience and no doubt I would sober up quick from my romantic stupor. Still it is a sobering that reorients; experience is a better guide than stories. And Cape Horn? I suspect it is the best antidote to my current fanciful notions. A splash of cold (damn cold) water, just the thing after two years of contemplating the beauty, elegance and importance of “nature” from the comfort of climate-controlled, well-lit, clean and altogether wild-less spaces. One other thing. The classroom is a paradigm of order, control, where logos is reified and worshipped to the chagrin of all that is impish, dionysian and alive. It is high time too rekindle the chaotic. To the visceral. To Cape Horn.
Emilio Garcia de la Huerta

Is it hard to get to Cape Horn?

Cape Horn is situated at the 56 degrees of southern latitude, one of the most southern piece of rocks (and land) before the Andes Mountains sink into the planetary storms and fresh air of the southern Pacific around the polar circle… that means if you navigated all around the world that could be the most dangerous place to cross because the cold current around Antarctica gets crashed into South America; that could possibly be the most amazing place to look at sunrises and sunsets full of alive colours, they could tell us much more about eternity than scientists’ explanations… To contemplate these colours is necessarily a cosmic chant!!

Historically, Cape Horn has been very famous in every sailor’s stories; and still there are a few communications defects; ice is still iced some places (glaciers at the Darwin mountains), and it is not hard to listen birds every morning, they sing every single melody of the story, and reflect how Yaghans have had to interact with these ecosystems full of blessings. My precious winter break is going to be marked by those blessings this year after I finish my career, and hopefully I will learn a lot about life in this intercultural learning opportunity; where everybody can teach you so much as a teacher.

I have never been comfortable in cities, I don’t like noisy places, I would always have left all the comforts to get together with these long-living friends like Nothofagus trees. Existential totality is all about being in the right place. Being at “the end of the world” and trading it for a few home commodities is a good business for the soul; wherever and whenever people invest money and time to re-create ourselves and go to see what is farther away is something that a few people love so much that when we go to the end of the world to meet it, to perceive how big is it, to play in it… We grow up, we get regeneration! Being together with the world we get new very good ideas and new ways to see life, and of course to live it in a better way.

I expect in this summer to grow as I have done during my naturalist and voyager life; those trees represent cosmos in a microscopic dimension, and I appreciate that. I appreciate to see those glaciers again and go swimming into the cold water, as I expect someday and hopefully soon to be the first man to explore the Cape Horn region for surfing. Well, the best gift of life I can receive is to participate in those microcosms and climb, and swim, and get colder, walk, see, get around, talk to people and listen what is inside my heart–and meditate about the times we are living. Finally, I want to thank everybody who has helped me to do this, and every angel that has been taking me in their arms for a long while, through the wind also.

If you really want to do it, just go ahead!
Kurt Heidinger

We see faces in clouds.

What else we see depends on what we imagine can be there.
Tracing the Path of Darwin: Nature Writing at the Beagle Channel is a field environmental aesthetics initiative that regards clouds as thermometerable water vapor, and as the expressions of our imaginations.
Imagination is questing impulse; and, for those who have it, every good question begets one.

We go beyond the walls of our culture to access an experience we know is extremely rare–and are profoundly lucky. Let us go forth with exuberant energy, but also quite humbly, for we hope the experience of being in Omoraland will awaken a portion of our self that is extremely rare, and difficult–but possible–to access. If we move too quickly, behave too garishly, speak only gringo etc. we might miss what is actually before and around us–no? Imagine missing the world one pines for….

Think of Duke Senior, and what he finds at the beginning of Act 2 of As You Like It. His character balances exuberance and humility admirably. When he accesses a part of himself he was not familiar with, that was inherent in him, he’s so pleased. This magnanimous part of himself, which he expresses as kindness, needed a “trigger” to become active.

What “trigger(s)?
Writers need to know the exact meanings of the words they use, not only to be accurate, but also to unleash the fullest world shaping power of language and storytelling; so an etymological inquiry is a necessary step for those who want to write moving, bulldozer-proof prose–and to direct readers to pristine awareness:

ORIGIN mid 16th cent.: from Latin magnanimus (from magnus ‘great’ + animus ‘soul’) + -ous.

ORIGIN Old English cynd(e), gecynd(e) [natural, native], of Germanic origin; related to kin. The original sense was [nature, the natural order,] also [innate character, form, or condition]; hence [a class or race distinguished by innate characteristics.] In Middle English the earliest sense is [well born or well bred,] whence [well disposed by nature, courteous, gentle, benevolent.]

ORIGIN Old English cynn, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch kunne, from an Indo-European root meaning ‘give birth to,’ shared by Greek genos and Latin genus ‘race.’
ORIGIN Middle English (denoting the physical power of a person): from Old French, from Latin natura ‘birth, nature, quality,’ from nat- ‘born,’ from the verb nasci.

Nature presents itself as the environment, as ecology, as chemistry etc etc, as the setting or backdrop of human history. We know it isn’t the backdrop though; for our blood is the rivers we bridge and storms that hammer our roofs.
Great soul and kinship.

Kindness and birth.
When we re-present nature, we invent it—
to a lesser or greater extent.
75% of us is clouds. (Scientific name: H2O)
What do we know

When we re-present ourselves, we invent ourselves—
to a lesser or greater extent.
Beyond the face and the science are the clouds
themselves, changing despite our projections.

Mountains appear and disappear
as they desire,
(if they do).
Ascendents get wet
climbing in sky on shoulders of mountains;
Selves appear and disappear, some real, some not—
into and out of the clouds.
All we need to do is


“If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife [/husband] and child and friends, and never see them again,–if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free [hu]man, then you are ready for a walk.”

HD Thoreau “Walking”

OSARA Advisor Dr. Ricardo Rozzi named by the city of Padua, Italy as “Illustrious Citizen in the World”

As the descendant of emigrants from the Veneto Region of Italy, the city of Padua recently named Dr. Ricardo Rozzi one of its “Illustrious World Citizens,” conferring him with a “gold medal” for his achievements in science and conservation.

Among other achievements, the award highlights Dr. Rozzi’s contributions via the Omora Ethnobotanical Park to conservation and sustainable development in the Cape Horn region of southern Chile.

For more information:

Cape Horn in National Geographic News

Unique Mosses Spur Conservation, Ecotourism in Chile
John Roach
for National Geographic News

November 14, 2006

A biosphere reserve on the southern tip of South America owes its existence, in part, to the diversity of mosses found there.

The Cape Horn Archipelago, a chain of wind-battered islands in the southernmost reaches of Chile, contains only a few tree species but a bounty of rare and unique mosses, according to William Buck, the curator of bryophytes at the New York Botanical Garden (map of Chile).

Bryophytes are a group of nonflowering plants that include mosses, liverworts, and hornworts.
Buck has traveled to the Cape Horn Archipelago each of the past four years to catalog the region’s mosses.

Inclement weather, rough seas, and a decades-long border dispute with neighboring Argentina have kept the archipelago pristine and unexplored. Many of the islands have never been studied, Buck says.

To date, he and his colleagues have documented numerous mosses previously unknown in the archipelago and several others that are new to science.
“I’m personally just interested in what mosses are there and how they are related to one another,” Buck said.

According to Buck, mosses are amazing plants because they can almost completely shrivel to nothing and enter suspended animation—in which all their vital functions cease—for years. Then, with a few drops of water, they can spring back to life.

Protected Area

But the findings, Buck adds, have aided local conservation efforts to bring greater environmental protections to the region and are helping to create a niche form of ecotourism.
“Like the Amazon is important for global diversity of primates and birds, [Cape Horn] is important for the diversity of bryophytes,” said Christopher Anderson, a postdoctoral research fellow with the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity in Santiago, Chile.

In 2005, the United Nations Education, Science, and Culture Organization (UNESCO) approved a Chilean government application to declare the Cape Horn Archipelago a biosphere reserve.
The designation promotes sustainable development, conservation, and research of the approximately 12-million-acre (4.9-million-hectare) region.

Anderson, who is also a research associate with the University of Magallanes Omora Ethnobotanical Park, a public-private operation in the Cape Horn Archipelago, says the bryophyte research was instrumental in the establishment of the reserve.

“It put into the value the southern region of Chile compared to other places with higher diversity of larger, more easily recognizable taxa,” he said.

Unique Mosses

According to the New York Botanical Garden’s Buck, the geography of South America, which narrows to a point as it extends toward the South Pole, likely explains the bounty of mosses.
“A lot of things have real narrow distributions, partly because there’s no more land to be distributed on,” he said. “You also get a lot of fairly rare things down there.”
Anderson explains that while the diversity of most plants and animals decreases as latitude increases, the trend reverses for the bryophytes.

He said between 5 and 7 percent of the world’s mosses and liverworts are found in the Cape Horn Archipelago.

In the island chain, as in most parts of the world, mosses prevent erosion and maintain forest humidity, among other ecological services. The plants soak up water during rainstorms, which prevents excessive runoff, and then slowly release the water for several days after the storm.
“That keeps humidity in the forest fairly constant,” Buck said.

Tourism with a Hand Lens

Scientists and conservationists are now working with the Chilean government to put the Cape Horn Archipelago’s bryophytes in the spotlight of ecotourism.

The Magallanes and Chilean Antarctic Regional Government recently funded a series of guide books on the region, including the Miniature Forests of Cape Horn, which describes the mosses.
Now local guides in Puerto Williams, the capital city of the region, are being taught how to identify the mosses and liverworts, with the idea that they will take tourists to visit the “miniature forests,” Anderson says.

The concept, coined “tourism with a hand lens,” is already established at the Omora Ethnobotanical Park, Buck notes.

When visitors arrive at the park, they are given handheld magnifying glasses. “When they put it up to their eyes, they see a whole new world,” Buck said. “It’s the equivalent to using a telescope to look at the stars.”

OSARA Volunteering in Cape Horn

I arrived in the country a little over a month ago, flying from Quito to Punta Arenas, and, following a brief stint in Tierra del Fuego, have since been volunteering for Omora on Isla Navarino, in sub-antarctic Chile. I plan to be here for five or six months.

My arrival in Punta Arenas coincided with Dr. Christopher Anderson’s trip to Karukinka, a wildlife reserve in Tierra del Fuego owned by the Wildlife Conservation Society, so I went along. We spent about five days tramping around in peat bogs and lenga forests and up the sides of mountains collecting water samples from streams, lakes, and beaver ponds in order to evaluate the impact of invasive beavers on aquatic invertebrate diversity. Being late spring in southern Chile, the weather was wildly erratic, featuring hail, snow, wind, rain, and brilliant sunshine, not infrequently all in the same day.

Beavers were introduced into Tierra del Fuego for the fur trade in the 1940s, and have spent the intervening years generally wreaking havoc on the native forests. Their dams flood the surrounding area, drowning the roots of the trees, over time creating a patch of waterlogged ground and still standing, dead, decaying snags. These patches, scattered over the landscape, are clearly visible from the air.

I flew to Puerto Williams, my home for the next several months, on the 7th of November, riding in a tiny little plane over what I have heard are breathtaking views of Patagonia, the mountains, glaciers, etc. We, however, were enshrouded in a clouds almost the entire flight, so these allegedly majestic vistas remain to me a subject of myth. Puerto Williams is very, very small, a town of about 2,500 people on Isla Navarino, just across the Beagle Channel from Argentina. Easily more than half of the inhabitants are families with the Chilean Armada, only posted here for a few years, so the actual, permanent population is smaller yet.

A group of three bryologists arrived a couple days after I did to work on Tayloria, a genera of moss in the family Splachnaceae that grows obligately on animal feces and emits unpleasant odors from its mature sporophytes in order to attract spore-dispersing flies. I spent the next several days with them and two students from the University of Magallanes looking for moss populations in the Parque Omora and in local peat bogs. There are three species of Tayloria reported on the island, of which we were only able to find two, one, T. mirabilis, which grows in the lenga-coigue forests, and the other, which grows in the sphagnum bogs. The U. Magallanes students continued working with the moss after the bryologists headed back north, both trapping the flies attracted to the moss for identification and analysis and working on a study of the moss phenology.

Other than that, I’ve mostly been involved with birds. Omora spends six days every month banding birds caught in mist nets at two sites in the Parque Omora, one site in so for a week in November I left the house every morning at five with Rina, the research assistant, in order to open the nets by six. We band the birds, and then measure and weigh them before releasing them. Omora has amassed about 6,500 capture records over the last six years of regular banding.

The Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity, based at the University of Chile, has a couple hundred nest boxes in and around the park in order to study rayaditos (Aphrastura spinicauda). I worked for a couple days with two researchers from Santiago, banding and taking blood from the nestlings and parents, and running exploration and predation experiments with the adult birds. The data can be compared with similar data collected in Chiloe and Tierra del Fuego, in order to evaluate latitudinal differences in nesting behavior.

I’ve also spent a fair amount of time with Elke Schuttler, a PhD student studying the impact of invasive mink, a very recent arrival to the island, on ground nesting birds. She locates and monitors the nests of several species of coastal birds, as well as placing artificial nests, in order to observe predation and the impacts of that predation on native birds. We put out 150 artificial nests early last week, at six sites, and five days later ninety percent of them had been predated. The sites on rocky coasts seemed to have a much higher rate of predation by mink rather than native birds of prey such as caracaras. This is possibly significant considering that the number of kelp geese (Chloephaga hybrida), a species which nests obligately on rocky coasts, seems to be decreasing.

Yours, Clare

UNT Nature Writing Course – Tracing Darwin’s Path

From December 26th to January 12, the University of North Texas’ Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies will conduct its first field course in the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve. Dr. Kurt Heidinger – OSARA Coordinator of Outreach and UNT Adjunct Professor will lead this direct-encounter nature writing course entitled “Tracing Darwin’s Path.”

The 10 undergraduate and graduate students will travel to Puerto Williams, where they will experience and write about the land that inspired Darwin’s theory of natural selection and was the setting of some of his most formative experiences as a young man.