Mystery of Mysteries

The rocks on the coast abounded with great black lizards, between three and four feet long; and on the hills, an ugly yellowish-brown species was equally common. We saw many of this latter kind…. The archipelago is a little world within itself, or rather a satellite attached to America, whence it has derived a few stray colonists, and has received the general character of its indigenous productions…. Seeing every height crowned with its crater, and the boundaries of most of the lava-streams still distinct, we are led to believe that within a period geologically recent the unbroken ocean was here spread out. Hence, both in space and time, we seem to be brought somewhat near to that great fact — that mystery of mysteries — the first appearance of new beings on this earth.

Charles Darwin embarked on his five-year Beagle voyage on this day in 1831. The above excerpt from Darwin’s notebook diary, later published as The Voyage of the Beagle, reflects his wonder at the geological-biological footprint in the Galápagos Islands. Carol Ann Bassett quotes the same passage in the Introduction to her 2009 study, Galápagos at the Crossroads: Pirates, Biologists, Tourists, and Creationists Battle for Darwin’s Cradle of Evolution — before she proceeds to develop her thesis that the islands are “on a collision course with 21st-century values driving tourism and immigration, and with invasive species that prey on the very life-forms which make the Galápagos special.”

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at