The Galapagos Tortoises

The photo I took of a tortoise on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos in 2004. — Photo by Pat Bean

“The tortoise only moves forward by sticking his neck out. I think it’s the same with humans.” – Pat Bean

I Met the Two Famous Ones

            There was a story about Diego in the New York Times this week that brought back memories of my 2004 trip to the Galapagos Islands. Diego is a tortoise that was taken from Espanola Island to the San Diego Zoo sometime in the 1930s. He belongs to the species of giant tortoises scientifically known as Chelonoidis hoodensis, or more commonly the Espanola tortoises.

Diego, the 100-year-old tortoise who has helped bring his species back from the brink of extinction.

There were originally 15 tortoise species in the Galapagos, but five of them are now extinct, with the last of the five dying out with the death of Lonesome George in 2012. I got to see both George and Diego at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island during the week that I spent cruising from island to island in a 16-passenger catamaran. Both of the tortoises stories fascinated me.

Lonesome George’s because he was the last of his species, and Diego, who had been brought back to the Galapagos in 1977 to help his species avoid extinction. At that time, there were only a dozen of his species known to still be alive, and while 10 of those were females, the two males were too young, too inexperienced, or too stand-offish to mate with them.

Diego’s male macho instincts on being returned to the Galapagos solved that problem. By some estimates, Diego, who is now 100 years old, has fathered over 800 tortoise babies.

Lonesome George before his death in 2012, He was the last of his tortoise species.

The Galapagos tortoises, which can weigh up to 900 pounds or so, have shells of various sizes and shapes. The ones living on humid highland islands are larger with domed shells and short necks. On islands with dry lowlands, the tortoises are smaller with long necks. Darwin noted these differences during his second visit to the islands in 1835, and they most likely, along with his observation of finches, helped him contemplate the theory of evolution.

As stories go, Diego’s is the one I like best. While the demise of the tortoises from about 250,000 in the 16th century to only about 3,000 in the 1970s is primarily due to the fact that humans think they tasted good, it was humans who also helped bring their numbers back up. Currently, there are about 20,000 tortoises in the wild – and Diego, who is scheduled to be released back on Santa Cruz Island will be one of them.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: My Botanical Garden http://tinyurl.com/jbswvwm I love the thought behind this blog. It’s sort of like my desire to always look for that silver lining, like the fact there are more tortoises in the world today than there were 50 years ago.

What Are You Reading?

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”  — Stephen King

A good writer will let you see beyond the picture and hear the water gurgling. — Photo by Pat Bean in Smoky Mountain National Park.

Five Books at a Time

My reading table always contains five books. In addition, there are books scattered all around my house – many waiting to become one of the five that are currently being read. I usually read the selected five one chapter at a time, rotating between them in order.

Well that’s what I do until one of the five demands I continue reading until I finish it without stopping, which I have to admit, is not a rare occurrence. And if that happens, nothing else gets done until the book is finished – and I love it when this happens.

I started my unusual reading habit for two reasons. The first is that there are books that I knew I wanted to read, but couldn’t seem to get into them. If I recall correctly, the first time that happened was with a James Michener novel, The Source. So I began reading just a few pages in it every night, and then I would pick up a book that held my attention better, At some point in Michener’s book, my interest took hold and I finished it quickly.

A good writer can place you in this forest and let you see the colors. — Photo by Pat Bean

I’m not a speed reader, but I can read fast when my attention is harnessed. On average, I read two complete books in a week. Reading too fast, however, was my second reason for reading several books at a time. Once a book takes hold of me, especially if I want to know what is going to happen next, I find myself reading so fast I don’t digest what I’m reading,

By reading several books at a time, I find myself better able to remember what I’ve read, maybe because I have to recall what went before when I return to the book. It works for me is all I can say.

Another habit I have is reading with both my journal and my daily to-do list nearby. In the journal, I write down quotes from the books, and my own thoughts about things I read. On my to-do list, I often jot down names of places that are mentioned, which I will later locate on a map or read more about. I also write down any words I do not know the meaning of, and will later look them up in a dictionary. This habit means nary a day goes by that I don’ learn something new.

Meanwhile, this slow-down ritual of reading that I’ve developed is also a tool for studying good writing, a habit that hundreds of authors have suggested makes for good writing. And good writing is definitely something I’ve come to love and appreciate. It was actually a piece of good writing that inspired this blog. After copying the paragraph down in my journal, I was inspired to share it.

I came across the paragraph in an essay by Eric Hansen that was included in his book, The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer: Close Encounters with Strangers.

It is the story of an elderly Russian woman who narrowly escaped with her life during World War II, and who now lives in a rent-controlled apartment in one of New York City’s worst sections of town. The woman, known as Madame Zova, warns Eric not to visit at night because it is too dangerous. He admits he is afraid to visit in the day, too, But he does. Later, when Eric has moved to California, he talks to Zoey, as he came to call her, on the phone, and asks if she is afraid to live alone. It is her reply, which Eric recalls in a marvelous piece of writing, that moves me intensely.

“No,” she said. “I am not afraid because I know what it means to love life and survive. People with no belief and no faith and no hope are like empty box. They have nothing. Miracles happen every day. You think red tulip growing from black soil is not a miracle?”

So what good books are you reading?

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Bean Pat: The Day After http://tinyurl.com/htebvmj As a person with wanderlust in my soul, these photos made me want to take a walk. Perhaps they will affect you the same way.

            “Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean”. – John Muir

Creek Street in downtown Ketchikan. -- Wikimedia photo

Creek Street in downtown Ketchikan. — Wikimedia photo

2001 Memories of a Non-Wandering Wanderer

The ferry made a six-hour stop in Ketchikan on its second day of travel after leaving Haines, Alaska. To make the most of the experience, I took advantage of a guided tour, knowing I would see more this way than on my own.

A stop at Saxman Totem Park, just south of Ketchikan, was first on the agenda. The park exhibits include relocated poles from abandoned Tlingit villages, or ones recreated by Tlingit carvers as part of a 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps’ project. The park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

Saxman Totem Pole Park. -- From one of the post cards I bought.

Saxman Totem Pole Park. — From one of the post cards I bought.

The next stop was Ketchikan Creek to watch salmon. Our guide said the fish have been running up the creek to spawn for thousands of years. The availability of the salmon was why the Tlingits set up summer fishing camps in the area. In turn, the camps brought the Europeans to the area for trading purposes. I felt a part of history watching the salmon as they swam past in the shallow creek.

Back in downtown Ketchikan, I saw the unique tunnel connecting two sections of the city, and admired the huge carved eagle – Thundering Wings – that stood nearby. The tour ended at Dolly’s, the home of a renown prostitute.

Afterwards I toured the quaint tourist shops and bought a painting of a stylized raven, one of the more prominent symbols carved into totem poles. The Tlingit raven stories are many, ranging from the humorous to the serious. And it seemed fitting, because of my birdwatching passion, that the raven painting – with the exception of postcards for my journal – would be my only purchased souvenirs during my trip.

What I primarily took home with me were memories, every one of which was worth recalling.

Bean Pat: Overcoming procrastination http://tinyurl.com/gvdd4uc What’s your trick. Mine, when I don’t feel like writing, is to write one sentence, then read or wash dishes for a few minutes, then write one more sentence and repeat. By the third or fourth sentence, I can usually keep writing for an hour or so, or until the work in progress is finished.


2001 Memories of a Non-Wandering Wanderer

Among the first new sights I saw, as the M.V. Columbia as the large ferry left Haines, were sea otters and porpoises in the water around the boat. Then, farther out, I watched as a humpback whale surfaced. It was as if this portion of my journey had been blessed.

I can't think of too many animals cuter than a sea otter. Can you? And seeing them in the wild was as good as it gets. -- Wikimedia photo.

I can’t think of too many animals cuter than a sea otter. Can you? And seeing them in the wild was as good as it gets. — Wikimedia photo.

Despite being tired from a half day of driving and a half day of sight-seeing, the spirit of the voyage encouraged me to stay up late and watch as our boat maneuvered through the Wrangell Narrows in the dark hours of the early morning.

The Narrows is a 22-mile long winding channel that is too shallow and narrow for the larger cruise ships to navigate. It requires an expert pilot to maneuver through the passage’s sharp turns. I could almost feel the tension as the ferry approached the town of Petersburg, which marks the north entrance to the channel. I dutifully watched the lighted buoys marking the path ahead – but that was pretty much all I could see in the dark.

Shortly after Petersburg, I gave up and went to bed in my tiny room on my tiny bunk.

Bean Pat: In search of snow http://tinyurl.com/hlolo66 Beautiful snowy photos that I enjoyed traveling through in my armchair.

A page from my journal with a picture of the ferry that I took.

A page from my journal with a picture of the ferry that I took.

            “Travel is like love, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.” — Pico Iyer

2001 Memories of a Non-Wandering Wanderer

Map of the Alaskan Marine Highway.

Map of the Alaskan Marine Highway.

            It was early afternoon when I arrived in Haines, where I continued to see bald eagles, plus puffins and a big-eyed seal. I still had plenty of time before I would drive myself aboard the M.V. Columbia for the three-day cruise down the Inside Passage to Bellingham, Washington.

To pass the time, I explored the small town, and visited the local history museum, where I learned all about Tlingit symbols, which I had been seeing on totem poles. Originally, totem poles were carved and raised to represent a family clan’s dignity, accomplishments, adventures and stories. Learning what the symbols meant helped me better appreciate the totem poles I would see later.

Afterwards I went in search of a Coke to quench a sudden craving – and couldn’t find one. I had to laugh at that – and be thankful for the surprises of travel. I then got in the vehicle line to board the ferry.

Haines, Alaska. -- Wikimedia photo

Haines, Alaska. — Wikimedia photo

After parking my car in the large space below, I went up on deck to find my cabin, a tiny like hall with a small porthole at the far end, and just enough room to squeeze in and sit on its bunk bed. I noted that passengers without rooms simply claimed a lounge chair on deck. I wished I had done the same. But when I booked the reservation, I hadn’t known that was possible.

Hmmm. Perhaps I should add taking the Alaska Ferry a second time to my bucket list. It was an exciting adventure.

Bean Pat: Morning Walk http://tinyurl.com/zhrr7rs With coffee and reflections. One of my favorite bloggers.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

Forget-me-nots by the roadside. -- Wikimedia photo

Forget-me-nots by the roadside. — Wikimedia photo

2001 Memories of a Non-Wandering Wanderer

I remember clearly when Alaska became a state in 1959. It had been an issue that had been discussed in the news for several years before it actually happened. And it had been one of the issues I debated in school.

Bald Eagles near Haines ... Wikimedia photo

Bald Eagles near Haines … Wikimedia photo

I remember that I took the opposing view, and one of my arguments against Alaska becoming a state was that it would mean Texas would then be only the second smallest state. Dumb argument, but what do you expect from a 14-year-old native Texan. And as I recall that argument was met by another 14-year-old who said: Alaska wouldn’t be bigger if all the snow and ice were melted away.

I thought about those school days as I drove from Haines Junction, Yukon, to Haines, Alaska, where I would catch a Ferry that would take me and my vehicle on the Inland Passage to Vancouver, Washington.

It was yet again another scenic drive, one with quite a few lake overlooks, an abundance of ground squirrels flittering here and there, trees full of bald eagles and roadsides full of small blue flowers.

Forget-me-not, up close and personal

Forget-me-not, up close and personal

I identified the flowers as Forget-me-nots, and learned it was Alaska’s state flower. From an Alaska guidebook, I also learned that the For-get-me not was first adopted in 1907 as the official flower of the “Grand Igloo,” an organization formed by pioneers that had arrived in Alaska before 1900, and that in 1917 it was proposed that the flower be declared the official emblem of the newly created Alaskan Territory. Esther Birdsall Darling wrote a poem for the occasion:

        So in thinking for an emblem

        For this Empire of the North

        We will choose this azure flower

         That the golden days bring forth,

        For we want men to remember

        That Alaska came to stay  

       Though she slept unknown for ages

        And awakened in a day.

        So although they say we’re living  

       In the land that God forgot,  

       We’ll recall Alaska to them

        With our blue Forget-me-not.

The Alaska Flag

The Alaska Flag

In 1927, Benny Benson, a 13-year old Aleut boy, referenced the Forget-me not with his winning flag design for the territory. He said the blue field represented the sky and the blue of the Forget-me-not flower. The North Star is for the future state of Alaska, and the Dipper is for the Great Bear – symbolizing strength, he added.

When Alaska entered the Union as the 49th state, Benny flag was retained as the state flag – and the Forget-me-not was adopted as the official state flower.

And it seemed that everywhere I looked on the drive this day, I saw Forget-me-nots. And I never will forget them.

Bean Pat: Forest Garden http://tinyurl.com/hk8rssn Flowers and Words, lovely.

Kluane National Park in the Yukon. -- Wikimedia photo

Kluane National Park in the Yukon. — Wikimedia photo

2001 Memories of a Non-Wandering Wanderer

Lakes, forests and mountains dominated the day’s drive, and sight-seeing stops – and it would take all the synonyms for beauty in a thesaurus to describe the day. Travel writers are cautioned not to use the overused word beautiful.

Mount St. Elias -- Wikimedia photo

Mount St. Elias — Wikimedia photo

My route followed the edges of the Wrangell-St Elias National Park in Alaska, and Kluane Wildlife Sanctuary and Kluane National Park in the Yukon Territory. The latter is home to Mount Logan, which at 19,551 feet is Canada’s highest mountain.


Among the wildlife I saw along the way were coyotes beside the road, northern shovelers on one of the lakes, and lesser scaups, which was not just a new trip bird but a lifer, a species that I was seeing for the very first time.

Haines Junction welcome,

Haines Junction welcome,

Haines Junction, a rustic town with only a population of 500, was created in 1942 during the construction of the Alaska Highway. It was evidently a stopping-off place because it had quite a few hotels for a village with a population of 600. Although small, it is a major administrative center for the First Nations people.

I stayed at a place called the Gateway Lodge, which may no longer exist because I couldn’t find it on the Internet when I went looking this morning. For my night-time entertainment, I did laundry, ate at a restaurant called the Cozy Corner and went to bed early. I had driven a bit over 300 miles this day and was pooped.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Blog pick of the Day. Check it out.

Bean Pat: Slice of Life http://tinyurl.com/jnpcuwa A wonderful day. What a great feeling to have on awakening in the morning.