Happy Birthday to My Man Chuck D.
If by some medical miracle Charles Darwin were still alive, he'd be turning an astounding 211 today. Darwin will always be one of my heroes, both because of his careful and diligent pursuit of understanding and because he stood up and spoke out for science at a time when many people didn't want to listen (perhaps there are parallels to be drawn...). I've been reading a little bit about Darwin's time on the HMS Beagle in The Modest Genius: The story of Darwin's life and how his ideas changed everything by Charles Strager. The Beagle was originally
chartered to spend two years mapping the coastline of South America but instead spent five years undertaking that challenge and many others on a journey that circumnavigating the world. It is estimated that Darwin spent 18 months out of those five years actually at sea, and the other three years and three months on land, exploring habitats, digging up fossils, and collecting specimens. He famously traveled to the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador and first saw the finches - a group of birds with many characteristics in common but distinctions in beak shape, overall size, and food preference that caused Darwin to hypothesize that they were different species with a shared common ancestor.
I feel like I know a lot about Darwin as a scientist after reading his book On the Origin of Species, and then The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner, as well as the 2017 version of Darwin's Wikipedia entry, but I hadn't thought much about what it was like to be a scientist on a boat in the early 1830's until opening The Modest Genius, and it certainly puts my time here on the Palmer in perspective. I share a room with Yessica, one of the Protected Species Observers - and we have not crossed paths in well over a week because we work and sleep at opposite times. Although I dislike climbing in and out of the top bunk, once I am in bed it is pretty comfy. Our ship rocks some in high seas and strong winds, but I have a sturdy bar that prevents me from rolling out of bed. There is a flash drive with over 300 movies stored on it and I brought all of Game of Thrones and
Breaking Bad to watch while I am down here. There are extensive lab and work spaces. Darwin shared a 10' by 11' room with two men from the crew - John Stokes, who was 19 and Philip King, who was just 14 years old (the same age of many of my Montauk students!) when the Beagle left port in 1831. There was a large table in the center of their room that was primarily used for creating maps and Darwin had a small corner that he was allowed to use for his scientific investigations. Every night, he set up a hammock over the table to sleep in, and every morning he took down the hammock and stored it away for the day. The boat was 100 feet in length and had over 70 men onboard - by contrast, the Nathaniel B. Palmer is 308 feet long and is home to 59 people. Hanne Strager says that Darwin developed his sense of order and fastidiousness after having to live and work on the ship for so long - I wonder if the same will happen to me after 60 days on the Palmer.