In Darwin’s Footsteps

Editor’s Notebook

Natural Wonder: The Galapagos Island can teach plenty about animals, and people, too.
Getty Images
Natural Wonder: The Galapagos Island can teach plenty about animals, and people, too.

By Jane Eisner

Published August 08, 2011, issue of August 12, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In September 1835, when Charles Darwin sailed to the Galapagos Islands, he collected birds and other specimens that helped him explain the natural world and revolutionize scientific understanding. Darwin’s presence still haunts anyone who visits this desolately beautiful archipelago in an isolated spot of the Pacific Ocean, where the 13 distinct species of finches bear his name, as does a research center dedicated to nurturing from extinction the giant tortoise that has become the islands’ hulking mascot.

Over the years, Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection has become synonymous with a brutal quest for survival, and even today, there is no escaping the stark imperative put forth by nature: Do whatever it takes to live and procreate. So the albatross will abandon an egg if it grows cold and perhaps lifeless; no second chances here. Even the most adorable creature — a baby turtle, a furry chick — is fair game for another’s meal. The soaring frigate bird will not hesitate to snatch food from another bird’s mouth. Disney doesn’t script this scene.

But the Galapagos Islands hold another insight. Nature may be cruel, but she is not gratuitious. The astonishing experience for any visitor is encountering birds, mammals, reptiles — from the tiniest ground finch to the 400-pound tortoise — unafraid and unconcerned about the humans in their midst. These creatures have been bred in such isolation that they do not fear anyone or anything that is not an obvious predator. Mistakenly step on an iguana’s looping tail and all it does is, essentially, shrug.

And so the experience begs a tantalizing question: What if we humans could learn to reserve our fear and hostility only for real enemies and quietly, unassumingly share the planet with everyone else?

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel:
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war?
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah:
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.