…with a new man. We’ve been getting to know each other slowly, long distance, through writing and just a few photos–the most old fashioned kind of courtship. Today my affection for him is brimming over–must be the rampant madness of spring–and I have to share him. Here he is:
Charles Robert Darwin, you’ve stolen my heart! Your sense of wonder, your humor and humility, not to mention your infatuation with orchids, barnacles and beetles–how I wish I could take a ramble through the woods or along the shore with you. Once you stood so still, observing, that some baby squirrels mistook you for a tree and raced up your legs and back. Once, you came upon a fox asleep in the daytime, and it woke up so astonished, it stared at you a good long time before running away. Once, hunting beetles, you already had one in each hand when you spied a third and popped it into your mouth, where it released a stream of beetle juice so foul you wound up losing all three specimens. As a boy, you loved birds so much, you wondered why everyone didn’t grow up to be an ornightologist. In your memoir you wrote, “The passion for collection, which leads a man to be a naturalist, a virtuoso, or a miser, was very strong in me.”
Darwin plays a role in my WIP, and what a treat getting to know him beyond the standard stuff. After his adventures on the Beagle, he became a stay-at-home. Every day without fail, after working and reading for a few hours, he’d stroll his Sand-walk, a narrow gravel path he’d constructed, bordered on one side by woods full of hornbeam and lime, birch and dogwood, and on the other by a field that gave way to a quiet little valley. Around and around he’d go, while his children ran past him or played near-by. His dog Polly, a rough little fox-terrier, came along. (“I had a passion for dogs. They seemed to know. I was adept in robbing their masters of their love.”) Imagine what was going on inside that head as he walked, thumping the ground with his stick. He believed in the fruits of idleness as much as industry–how well we’d have gotten along!
His great-great-grandaughter Ruth Padel wrote the wonderful “Darwin–A Life in Poems.” For some of the poems, all she needed to do was arrange his words on the page, like these last lines of “More Funny Ideas About Grandeur”:
But there is a simple grandeur in this view–
that life, with its power to grow, to reach, feel,
reproduce, diverge, was breathed
into matter in a few forms first
and maybe only one. To say that while this planet has
gone cycling on
according to fixed laws of gravity,
from so simple an origin, through selection
of infinitesinal varieties, endless forms
most beautiful and wonderful
have been, and are being, evolved.