Tracing Darwin’s Path: Field Course December 08

Picture 746.jpg As I checked in and received my tickets, I said good bye to my father and made my way to the gate. I met up with the students from UNT and could see that everyone was excited. We all were a little stressed from all the last minute packing. It all hit us as the airport clerks called out the group numbers for boarding, we were now going to Chile and embarking on this special opportunity. For some it would be their fourth or fifth time out of the country, for others it would be their first. However, I knew that this trip would be very meaningful and much could be learned from such a unique endeavor. We took off around 9:00 pm and got comfortable for our sleep – or for some, for our late night catch-up on course readings. On the plane ride, I had some time to reflect on why I came on the trip. To myself, I knew that I was interested in biological and cultural conservation and understood the relationship between the land and people; however, I never was aware of any program that existed to preserve both aspects until several months before. I wanted to come on this trip to learn more about this idea and meet the people that strive for it. I also came to get away from “modern” life and immerse myself in nature in a very raw and open way. The degree of connection that I was going to feel was something not expected. The plane flew seamlessly into the dark night, headed for Santiago, Chile.

After several stops, one in Santiago and one in Puerto Montt, we finally arrived in Punta Arenas and were accompanied to the Hain Hotel. Everyone was tired from all the flying, but a ceremonial dinner was planned, and we had one hour to get ready for it. The dinner was tasty, and we were told class would begin the following day. None of the students really had an idea of what “class” would actually be. I myself was excited to find out what exactly we would be learning.

Over the course of the next few days, some of the experiences we shared included penguin watching, visiting the cemetery near downtown Punta Arenas, sampling various points of Las Minas for stream visual assessing, and hiking up to a waterfall in the Magallanes Forest Reserve. Hiking to the top of the Magallanes Reserve was a very deep experience for me. I hiked up slowly and began to take notice of all the things around. As I observed the abundance of flora around myself, I began to feel drawn to all that was around me. As a biology student, I could not help but marvel at the complexity and intricateness of the plants as they clung onto the sides of the steep slopes. But this wonder then permeated not only the plants, but then to the water around it, the rocks below it, the sun above it. I thought back to my studies and how I learned from a biology book on how the sun provides energy for the plants and how the water provides nutrients for the plants. I also learned how plants respire oxygen and how humans, like myself, breath in this oxygen for metabolic processes. But this was different, I was breathing in this oxygen. And in a sense, everything else was too, breathing together as one. I logically understood the connectivity of nature through my biological studies, but I believe that hike illuminated the realization of this connectivity to me through experience. The whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts. I couldn’t help but smile; it was only day two of the trip, and we had two and half weeks left. Some of the required readings for the class dealt with this sort of experience: two that stuck out of my mind were the Zen readings and the Sea of Cortez by Steinbeck. I could not help but reread Sea of Cortez.

“And it is a strange thing that most of the feeling we call religious, most of the mystical out crying which is one of the most prized and used and desired reactions of our species, is really the understanding and the attempt to say that man is related to the whole thing, related inextricably to all reality, known and unknowable . . .It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.”

But in this case for me, it was the river instead of the tide pool.

The picture I posted is the sunset beyond the Dientes de Navarino Mountains in the Omora Park. There was much more I experienced on the trip that I would like to share, but I do not want to take up too much space on the Osara journal website. But I know there is much more to experience in Chile because I kissed the foot of the Patagon of the Magellan Statue in Punta Arenas. I am very grateful for the experience we all shared and long to see all of you friends again in the future.

[B]Ryan “Lenga” Sturrock
University of North Texas