Tracing Darwin’s Path: Dec. ’08-Jan. ’09

Emilys.JPGIt didn’t actually hit me until I got off the airplane in Punta Arenas. Everything had gone so quickly – finals, Christmas, and suddenly I was in southern Chile, tracing Darwin’s path. I had first heard about Omora Ethnobotanical Park from Dr. Kurt Heidinger, a former professor of mine who had taught the first class in the Tracing Darwin’s Path series. Although it took three years, I finally secured funding through a grant offered by the Environmental Research Institute at Vassar College, where I go to school. After all I had heard about Omora and the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve, I was thrilled to finally have the opportunity to experience it.

And what an experience it was. As an Environmental Studies major at Vassar, I often discuss with my classmates what wilderness means, what nature means, and how we as humans can make sense of it all. Growing up in Connecticut, I spent a lot of time in second-growth forests. At Vassar, I’ve spent time researching an urban stream that runs through our campus. Suddenly I was hiking up to Los Dientes, following the Río Róbalo, learning what a steam is actually supposed to look like and how it’s actually supposed to function. It may not be completely “pristine,” but it was the closest I’ve ever gotten to it.

Tracing Darwin’s Path put my entire college education into context. The biocultural conservation paradigm articulated many of the things I intuitively felt about environmentalism, especially the idea of reciprocity and respect toward both the land and other human beings. The idea of “changing lenses” was also a very powerful one for me. Sitting at our campsite along the Róbalo, with the sharp-toothed peaks of Los Dientes in the background, I discovered my own environmental ethics. I finally had time to read, to experience, and to think for myself; this particular moment was extremely empowering.

The experiences we shared in the course were unique and absolutely incredible. I am so grateful that I was able to participate in this course, which combined science and philosophical thought in a way that was both relevant and inspiring. It allowed me to view landscapes large and small in a completely different way. As I return to my urban watershed and my suburban home, I continue to think about we interact with our ecosystems, both symbolically and physically – and in that way, I suppose, I am still very much a student of the program.

There is much more to say, but very few words in which to express it.

Much love,

Emily Vail
Vassar College 2009

Tracing Darwin’s Path 3 – A Biocultural Field Experience

Group foto with Dientes.jpgCoordinated by OSARA since 2006, the most recent iteration of Tracing Darwin’s Path, held in June 2008, for the first time brought together students from the University of Magallanes, the University of North Texas, the University of La Serena and a staff person from the U.S. Embassy in Chile. Course instructors Dr. Christopher Anderson (ecologist-OSARA) and Dr. Britt Hollbrook (philsopher-UNT) designed the class to provide students with a direct experience of not just studying biocultural conservation, but seeing how our international and interdisciplinary alliance is successfully putting ideas into practice through the implementation of the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve. Previous versions of the field course have focused on nature writing (2006) and ethnoecology (2007), and the upcoming version (December 2008) will revolve around the theme of “watersheds” – their use, ecology, philosophy and conservation. Students taking part in the experience include such diverse majors as anthropology, journalism, philosophy, psychology, biology, sociology and international relations. To see videos from the course, visit OSARA’s YouTube site.

Cape Horn Headlines Student Symposium

The University of North Texas’ Biological Student Association held its annual Research Day on April 19th, inviting OSARA President Dr. Christopher Anderson to give the keynote address. This year’s symposium, coordinated by Benjamin Lundeen and inaugurated by UNT VP for Research Dr. Vish Prasaad, was the first time that the event sought to reach out to other departments and become a more interdisciplinary venue for undergraduates and students from other disciplines to participate.

Dr. Anderson’s talk, entitled The “Southern Summit’s” Relevance for Biocultural Conservation, was meant to provide a model for UNT’s students and faculty. It showed how the process of creating the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve has been a long-term, interdisciplinary project that has linked research and society since 2000. The success and significance of this approach to science, research and conservation was apparent and the continuing committment of the university was provided by high officials to strengthen and expand this annual symposium. In addition, some of these very same students will participate in the Tracing Darwin’s Path field course in Cape Horn in June and December of this year.

NT Daily News – Conservation Students Study Abroad

By Melissa Crowe

Eighteen students ventured to what they called the “end of the world” during the winter semester, joining theories of biology and philosophy to study conservation in Punta Arenas and Puerto Williams, Chile. “It’s kind of an odd trip to pick for just one credit,” Denton senior Kasi Petr said. “It’s a lot of being outside.” When people think of studying abroad, Patagonia does not usually come to mind, she said.

Kelli Moses, a Denton junior and Omora Sub-Antarctic Research Alliance and UNT Chile Program Assistant agrees… (continue reading the entire article).

OSARA and UNT Strengthen Collaboration

kelli.jpgOSARA and the University of North Texas’s Chile Program Office have formalized their collaborative efforts in the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve this semester by jointly hiring Kelli Moses as a Project Assistant who will help coordinate the courses, events and programs being carried out in southern Chile.

Kelli is currently finishing her B.S. in Biology at the UNT, and she first came to Puerto Williams as a student in the first ever Tracing Darwin’s Path course in 2006. Since then, she has been an active participant in the implementation of the Chile Program Office at UNT. She is also conducting her thesis on the relationship of aquatic mosses and macroinvertebres in the CHBR, just coming back recently from a boat-based expedition to the Northwest Arm of the Beagle Channel.

We welcome Kelli, who brings to this initiative her own personal enthusiasm and dedication, as well as formally helping to consolidate the collaboration that UNT and OSARA have been developing since 2006.

Tracing Darwin’s Path Student – Carolina Saunders – Wins Photo Award

UNT student Caroline Saunders participated in 2006-2007 in the first UNT-OSARA study abroad course, carried out at the Omora Park under the direction of former OSARA education coordinator Dr. Kurt Heidinger.

Now, Caroline’s photographic work has been awarded BEST IN SHOW in the Hot Shots from Hot Spots Photo Competition. The award winning photo was entitled “Reflections in a Windblown Tree”, and according to Caroline included an image of the course professor “reflecting in a windblown tree on the Beagle Channel. To the left, one of many Chilean cows. This tree (and specific spot) was my favorite area of all the country we visited.”

Dr. Heidinger’s response to the awarding winning photo of himself was “Hey! I always wanted wanted to be famous! Congratulations, Caroline! You are certainly a talented photographer.”

For more, visit Caroline’s website:

Tracing Darwin’s Path – Nature writing at the Beagle Channel

In December 2006 – January 2007, OSARA education coordinator Dr. Kurt Heidinger taught the first nature writing study abroad program at the Omora Ethnobotanical Park. The field course, organized by OSARA for the Department of Philosophy at the University of North Texas, included a multidisciplinary group of undergraduate students from Chile and the United States interested in “experience-based” learning and bridging the humanities and the sciences.

For pictures of this adventure, check out:

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”

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.

UNT Grad Students Can Work in Chile

By Kasey Crill

NT students now have the opportunity to work at the department of Philosophy and Religious Studies’ field station at Cape Horn, Chile, where these Chilean students are working. The department of Philosophy and Religion Studies launched a field station in Cape Horn, Chile, giving opportunities to NT graduate students for internships and travel research beginning in fall 2006.

Ricardo Rozzi of the philosophy faculty said there are several ways students can get involved with this research prospect in Chile. NT students can take classes and learn about what is going on, act as research project assistants or complete their thesis or dissertation within the graduate department. (to read entire article click here).