Finding Darwin

“The climate is certainly wretched: the summer solstice was now passed, yet every day snow fell on the hills, and in the valleys there was rain, accompanied by sleet. From the damp and boisterous state of the atmosphere, not cheered by a gleam of sunshine, one fancied the climate even worse than it really was.”

Charles Darwin spoke these honest words as he arrived at the Tierra del Fuero, or the Land of Fire, the end of the world, the very bottom of South America. And he may be right: a coastline battered by sub-Antarctic seas, wind-lashed rocks and constant clouds and rain. And whilst I’m not venturing quite as far South as this, I’m fairly certain I’ll look at this land with a similar admiration and wonder as Darwin did.

Most people don’t realise that Darwin spent over a year sailing along the Chilean coastline, before he ever got to the Galapagos. And this beautiful country left deep impressions on him, from the terrible earthquake he witnessed to the local peoples and fossils he discovered.

Darwin’s hand-coloured geological map of islands off the South American coast – Cambridge University Library

I found Darwin fairly early on in life. Where most children find Sunday School, Pokemon or PlayStation, I found Darwin. I wasn’t old enough at the time to understand much of the Origin of Species, but I knew its words made sense. I knew that nature was beautifully cruel. I knew that I was connected to it. I knew I had to make sense of it. So I painted it.

In a way, I carried Darwin with me throughout my childhood. Devouring the differences and similarities between forms, understanding nature’s often hard-to-swallow brutality. Reading his books, to uncovering his travels, to getting that little bit closer to everything in London’s magnificent Natural History Museum.

In Chile, I hope to find Darwin. I hope to find the same wonder for all of nature’s forms, the endless forms most beautiful. I carry Darwin’s words to Chile with me, literally upon my person, and I hope Chile will carry nature back to me.

*cover photo from Patagonia.com

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