In 1999, when we were all worried that Y2K was going to wreck the world as we knew it, maybe even blow it up, my family went to the Galapagos. My husband, who had written a book called The Beak of the Finch, about scientists Rosemary and Peter Grant studying Darwin's finches in the Galapagos, was invited to go on two back-to-back one week trips (on Lindblad Expeditions) and give some talks. He was allowed to bring our family along. Our sons were then 14 and almost 11. We all went for two weeks--Christmas week into New Year's week. If the world blew up, we'd be on the equator, in the Galapagos. What a way to go.
It was a magical trip. Our older son, in true teenager style, said to his father while walking on a gorgeous beach New Year's day, 2000, "Well Dad, short of taking us to the moon, this was the most amazing thing you could have done for us."
Writers are mostly poor. I don't know if you realize that. Especially if one writer is not married to, say, an investment banker. We two independent writers brought up our sons often wondering if we were going to be able to keep the show going. Some days (what am I saying?, some months, some years), I would go to the grocery store and panic--how was I going to buy pasta, cereal, laundry detergent, and still pay the electric bill? And then came the Pulitzer Prize, with all its shine. And still not a lot of money. We worked very hard, both of us, and loved our jobs, but.... not a lot of money, not a budget for luxuries like expensive family trips. But then. The Galapagos. Every once in a while, we were thrown a plum, and that trip to the Galapagos was a whole bushel of plums every day for two weeks. That bushel of plums lasted for years afterwards--unlike real plums. Someone once said, spend your money on experiences because experiences last longer than things. Let me chime in and say: YES! Because in our case it was really true.
When Jon was asked again to go to the Galapagos and yes, he could bring the family, I didn't know how the boys--now young men--would react. Could they commit, a year in advance, to spending two weeks with their parents? Would they even want to? Jon barely got the sentence out of his mouth. They each said YES without thinking about it. The Galapagos is that amazing a place.
So we went this past summer, again for two weeks. An added bonus was that I was also asked to speak, about Charles and Emma. To tell that story while on a ship in the Galapagos was pure joy. And going back with our now-grown sons (25 and 22) was also pure joy. It was epic and monumental and perhaps the most beautiful thing in the world. For what the Galapagos is about, for me, is the essence of life. As you walk the paths of the islands, paths lovingly created, guarded, and protected by the Galapagos Park Service and the Guides, without whom you would not be able to visit, you are surrounded by nature in all its glory--and brutality, sometimes. The animals are not at all scared of humans, so you can walk right next to (and I mean RIGHT NEXT to) a Blue-footed Booby
Or a Red-Footed Booby and chick:
You have to be careful not step on an iguana
or a sea lion.
You can see, up close, from literally inches or feet away, the Waved Albatross's mating dance, a male-Frigate bird's red-sack display, a sea-lion pup nursing. You snorkel with sea lions and angel fish, sea turtles, sharks and eels and octopi, and your grown sons. Who watch out for you. Who help you scramble over boulders on land and make sure you are not far away if there is something beautiful to see in the water.
(I have no digital photos from the first trip. But younger son brought a copy of a photo taken back then of a sea lion kissing his knee. With the help of a guide, we found the exact spot where that photo was taken. Tears-mine-were shed.)
The trip was so special that when Hurricane Irene forced us to drive, the four of us, from Miami home to New York city, we didn't balk. We packed our stuff into the trunk, our long-legged sons into the back seat, and drove home. It took us two and a half days and we had. A. Great. Time. Really.
Recently there was a story in the paper, a story that my husband had researched back when the boys were 4 and 1, the first time he went to the islands (that time, not on a gorgeous ship, but on a rented fishing boat that he found out later had sunk the previous year). He did not use the research in The Beak partly because it was not yet finished and partly, I think, because it was so gory. The researcher Jon toured the Galapagos with that first time, David Anderson, has been studying Nazca Boobies
and their cycle of abuse on a beautiful island called Española. As you will see if you read about his study, abuse begets abuse in birds. Not a surprise, really. Scientists are now saying that abuse seems to beget abuse in humans as well. Also not a surprise. Happily, the converse seems also to be true. Love begets love, and good experiences lead, one hopes, to more good experiences.
Of course when we write books for children, we are hoping to do the same thing. We can't take the world's children with us to the Galapagos, or to meet an historic person, or even to personally hang out with living scientists, but we can try to bring those experiences to them through books. By writing them, and by reading them. (Read to a child today!)
I know not everyone can go to the Galapagos. I can't believe we were fortunate enough to be able to go twice (and in my husband's case, three times). But I do know that taking children on trips, and exposing them to nature--in all its beauty as well as red in tooth and claw--will give them a lifelong interest in and support of the natural world. On our trip there were grandparents taking grandchildren around the islands.
I'm just saying.
Photos courtesy Jonathan Weiner and Lock McKelvey.