Letters from the Library: A green heart

09 Jul 20 /

Author: Edgardo Civallero

Sometimes I find it difficult to understand what I read. I try to find fragments of my old knowledge of paleography in the back of my memory, but to no use: Some of the handwritings that cover — like a tight carpet of scribbles — the pages of the manuscript I am transcribing resemble real hieroglyphs. Or some of those exotic writings still to be deciphered: those that only their original scribes would be able to understand.

And there are dozens of different handwritings in this notebook. A large, old notebook, attacked by insects that, bite after bite, carved endless grooves in its leaves. It came into my hands back in 2018, when I was checking out a handful of dampened boxes, loaded with discarded papers. I remember that the picture accompanying this post fell from among its pages: An owl that, according to the note on the back, was photographed by Tjitte De Vries. The document turned out to be a guestbook: A kind of improvised "log" in which nearly a hundred hands wrote summaries of a hundred research and field work carried out on Isabela Island between 1969 and 2003, both by the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and its visiting scientists, and by staff of the Galapagos National Park.

This notebook that I am transcribing — ninety pages containing about thirty years of the history of science and conservation in the archipelago — was the guestbook of El Corazón Verde.

El Corazón Verde (Spanish for "The Green Heart") was a house that the CDF built and maintained in La Esperanza neighborhood, Santo Tomás, in the highlands of the largest of the Galapagos Islands. It was built at the request of Jacinto Gordillo, the CDF's man in Isabela since July 1966. With the support of Roger Perry and Tjitte De Vries — CDF's director and assistant director, respectively —, in 1967 the materials for the building were gathered and, by October 1969, the house was officially inaugurated. The place was taken care of by Jacinto Gordillo himself and another emblematic man in CDF's history: Arnaldo Tupiza, a National Park guard, and the carpenter who built the main structure of the house (along with another guard, Antonio Constante).

The space was conceived as a "science shelter": A base of operations and a refuge for all the scientific expeditions carried out on Isabela. As De Vries noted...

CORAZON VERDE stays for a center of scientific and conservational activities. That this heart is still green signifies the hope: conservation without hope is blind, science without hope is lame.

The different visits were carefully noted in the pages of the guestbook, alongside the activities carried out and the corresponding dates and signatures. Such notes were made in English, sometimes. Or in Spanish. Or, most of the times, in a recently learned, unsure Spanish, funny but a little bit difficult to understand.

Especially if the damned handwriting is added to the poor grammar and the crazy spelling.

[There are honorable examples, such as the entry on September 30, 1987, of a scientist whose name I will keep for myself, who, after writing half a page in "Spanish" without a single accent, added all of them later... using a different ink.

And dishonorable examples, such as texts full of terrible misspellings, written by Spanish-speaking researchers].

Beyond being a special document, the record of several original discoveries and ideas, and the witness of events such as the eruption of Cerro Azul in 1979, the terrible fire of March 1985, the delimitation of the grounds of the National Park, or the construction of a refuge in Sierra Negra, the notebook compiles an inventory of what true field work means: Exhaustion, long trips, dirt, cockroaches and chiggers, rain, humidity, blisters, worn clothing, repetitive and boring work... A lot of little winks, included here and there in the different texts, make absolutely it clear.

[The importance of a cold beer or good rum is also clear].

Here are some examples:

January 1971

Agradezco mucho a el Sr. Gordillo y los Sres. Tupiza y Cartagena para todo: reflectando desde la sopa de tomate de arbol por Alemania, los días en las faldas de Fernandina y Cerro Azul, el meeting en Marchena, hasta las alegres fiestas.

[I am very grateful to Mr. Gordillo and Mr. Tupiza and Mr. Cartagena for everything: the tree tomato soup in Germany, the days on the slopes of Fernandina and Cerro Azul, the meeting in Marchena, and the joyous festivities].

July 1977

Cinco daneses estuvieron aquí realizando colecciones de plantas. Después de dos días con garúa tan espesa como sopa de arvejas en la caldera logramos ver la vista fantástica. El resultado de la colección fue muy excellente — y la estadía aquí y la expedición a Sierra Negra fue un éxito total, gracias al señor Tupiza, quien nos ayudó lo más posible. ¡Excursión y vacaciones al mismo tiempo!

[Five Danes were here collecting plants. After two days with rain as thick as pea soup in the caldera, we managed to see the fantastic view. The result of the collection was very excellent and the stay here and the expedition to Sierra Negra was a total success, thanks to Mr. Tupiza, who helped us as much as possible. Excursion and holidays at the same time!]

July 1979

The shelter provided the best, dry moments in the past 5 days. A tip to future travelers to the crater: watch out for fending macho bulls.

December 1979

Viajar cincuenta kilómetros a pie fue algo muy cansado. Pero todo lo visto en Volcán Chico, Pampas Coloradas y todo el camino vale la pena cualquier cansancio.

[Traveling fifty kilometers on foot was very tiring. But everything seen in Volcán Chico, Pampas Coloradas and all the way is worth any fatigue].

June 1982

Otro día estuvimos en Sierra Negra — que por cierto para mí fue muy negra la caminata debido a mis zapatos estrechos.

[Another day we were in Sierra Negra (Black Range) — which, by the way, the walk was very black for me because of my narrow shoes].

November 1985

[In the list of members of an expedition]

Además: varios caballos, volquetes, cucarachas, perros domésticos y salvajes, y niguas.

[Also: various horses, tippers, cockroaches, domestic and wild dogs, and chiggers].

September 1987

Ha sido un placer, poder asistir a una becaria de la PUCE, la señorita [...], en su trabajo de entomología, aunque solo me utilizó para hacer hoyitos y poner sus milagrosos vasitos y mantenerme 5 días completamente sucio.

PD: Gracias a [...] por las cervezas.

[It has been a pleasure, to be able to assist a PUCE fellow, Miss [...], in her entomology work, although she only used me to make holes and put her miraculous glasses into the ground, and kept me 5 days completely dirty.

PS: Thanks to [...] for the beers].

The guestbook of El Corazón Verde bears witnesses to the excellent work carried out by the caretakers of the CDF, and by collaborators such as Pedro Cartagena, about whom I will speak again in this space. But, above all, it is a demonstration of scientific work and love for a small corner of the world that left no one insensitive.

I wish it to be a pleasant process before this heart is ripe.

Tjitte De Vries, October 31, 1969.


Andres Cruz

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