Monday, 10 January 2011
Darwin on Memories of Patagonia
"In calling up images of the past, I find that the plains of Patagonia frequently cross before my eyes; yet these plains are pronounced by all wretched and useless. They can be described only by negative characters; without habitations, without water, without mountains, they support merely a few dwarf plants. Why then, and the case is not peculiar to myself, have these arid wastes taken so firm a hold on my memory? I can scarcely analyse these feelings; but it must be partly owing to the free scope given to the imagination." Charles Darwin.
Huge thanks to Tom Maxwell for telling me about this quote from Darwin, which resonates with me. In 1833 Darwin explored Patagonia as part of his Beagle voyage. He was 24 years old then. Towards the end of his life, he was asked which part of the world he most vividly remembered from his travels. The quote is the answer.
I am not surprised that memories of Patagonian scenery were so enduring for him. The steppe we passed through in our three and six hour bus rides was less severe than Darwin's. We were close enough to the Patagonian Andes for there still to be great rocky terraces and lakes fed by glacial melt, occasionally interrupting the plains. That said, the barren expanses between, hour after hour, were mesmerising.