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千年等一回

A Million Years of Memory

We put ashore at Tagus Cove in the bronze light of late afternoon, scraping the bow of our Zodiac onto the hard black sand beach. A few yards inland, a mountain rises up from the sand, buttressed with thick ridges. It looks raw, freshly created from the earth.

I have studied local maps and know I will need a steady uphill climb to give me a perspective on the landscape that I couldn’t realize at sea level. The spine of one ridge is fluted, and there is a narrow trail hidden inside of it. I follow it up atop a thin patina of red soil, iron and magnesium and sulfur once spit out of the volcano as ash and smoke and fire, now finely ground to dust. The path, which is at first a steep heart-pumping natural stairway of small boulders, becomes more of a gentle incline as it goes higher.

It leads me above a thousand feet, up to where finely woven nests of ground finches hang from the bare limbs of the ghostly palo santo trees. Looking down, I see that the cove, in the shape of a perfect half moon, is what remains of a volcanic crater. Time and tide collapsed its seaward wall long ago, and now the ocean fills the geological bowl where magma once roiled. I have walked up the rim of the other half of the crater that still remains.

I’m in the Galapagos, 600 miles offshore South America in the Pacific, the lone writer aboard a research ship full of marine scientists. These islands straddle the Equator, and common sense would have them tropical and warm. But they are also washed with bewildering crosscurrents, which transports ice-cold water up from the Antarctic. Wayward penguins once rode this current northward, and today they have become part of a menagerie of animals and plants, which after drifting, flying or swimming here, have been singularly molded by the isolation of the place. They include giant land tortoises with shells shaped by how they feed on the individual islands where they live; iguanas that have learned to swim underwater and graze algae from boulders; a finch that hunts insects like a woodpecker, except that it holds a twig in its beak and uses it as a tool. Entire families and classes seem to have changed anatomically, just by the act of being in a place my shipmates call the “cradle of evolution.” The scientists are here hoping for new discoveries, ways of describing a genus or a species that has never been examined before. I am here for discovery, too, except my logic is more inexact, a childlike sense of anticipation rooted somewhere deeply in my gut.

In some vague way, this place is a reflection of how we are all fashioned by our own realities. Here in the Galapagos, without the nonsense of civilization to muddle up the point, it is just more evident.

This is an odd piece of geography, where cold water meets warm sky and mist sometimes rises up unexpectedly, clouding everything in a pale blur. I have been on the deck of our research ship at dawn by myself, and could not see more than a few yards in any direction. Once, a whale surfaced and splashed, maybe fifty feet away from me, fully hidden in a vacuum that was white, cool. As I stood there alone on the stern, I heard it release the air from its massive lungs in one extended monstrous breath. It sounded as if the entire sea itself was exhaling, expelling a million years worth of memory in a single giant burst of spray and power and light. The mist gradually parted, perhaps from the force of the whale’s exhalation, and I could see a portion of its immense body, dark and barnacled like the bottom of a ship, moving deliberately through the water. The moment seemed vaguely hallucinogenic, and I felt as if I were there but also somewhere else, my lonely soul like the disembodied spindrift of the whale’s breath. And then as suddenly as it had surfaced, the great cetacean had vanished, dissolving back into the water without a sound. I was still alone on the deck, and with me in the white were only the sounds of the gulls, shrieking at each other, and then, even that was too gone. No wonder the early Spanish, not sure if these islands were real or imagined, first mapped them as “Encantada,” enchanted.

And now, up here on the edge of this collapsed volcano, I realize the ridge I’ve been hiking has taken me to the top of the rim shared by Tagus and the wholly intact bowl of an adjacent caldera, one that sprawls out for a few hundred meters inland. A young naturalist named Charles Darwin made this same hike after putting ashore here at Isla Isabella in the HMS Beagle in 1835. For Darwin, these islands offered a rare glimpse into the beginning of the world itself. The experience was so powerful that it changed him from a creationist; but the dissonance was palatable―it took him the rest of his life to work up the courage to finally admit that animals and plants alter to adapt to their place on earth.

The inland volcano cradles a small, sullen lake at the bottom of its bowl. It is a steep walk-crawl down the sides, and I have no reason to go there. But Darwin was here in the heat of the midday sun and, without a canteen, hoped the lake might quench his thirst. He scrambled down to the bottom of the caldera with no hesitation. But when he cupped his hands to drink, he was startled to find the water was saltier than the ocean itself. All was not lost: Mapmakers named the crater “Volcan Darwin” in his honor.

Seaward, I look down on the broken and submerged crater of Tagus through my binoculars and see a half dozen green turtles mounting the shells of each other, frothing the turquoise sea in their passion. As I watch, each raises its ancient, armored head up out of the water, gulping air in sheer turtle bliss. I have seen other sea turtles underwater during my month here in this isolated archipelago. And each time I have been struck by their primitive grace, the way they glide like huge stout hawks through the water, the glint of another millennium shining in their eyes.

They tell me reptiles don’t dream, having evolved long before the rest of us earned the genetic right to that sweet luxury. But I wonder: Do they even need to, out here in an enchanted place that is still part dream itself? Isn’t it enough to fly underwater like colossal thick-bodied birds, tiny wings of scales moving them as fast as they ever need to go?

I am waiting for the whale now. I think I hear her sweet night voice, calling from somewhere deep inside the black sea.

  千年等一回

  在暮色降临的时候,我们的桑地斯号驶进了塔霍河河口。我们只听见船头处不时传来刺耳的摩擦声,最后船只终于停靠在坚硬的沙滩上。在陆地几码开外的地方,只见一座大山平地而起,中间还布满蜿蜒的山脊。这山看上去是那么原始,那么粗糙,就像刚刚从地表里冒出来一样。

  因为研究过当地的地图,所以我清楚自己还需要攀登好一段的距离,才能看到在海平面上无法看到的景致。其中一节山脊还是中空有凹槽的,因为有一道狭窄的痕迹隐藏其中,我就沿着这条路一直往山顶上走。地面薄薄地铺着一层铜绿色的混合物,其中包括了红土、铁、镁、硫磺等物质,这些由火山爆发喷发出来的物质又重新回归到了地面。前半段的路程很陡峭崎岖,完全是天然的石头阶梯,而越往上面走,山势就越和缓。

  足足爬了一千多英尺我才到达山顶,只见玉檀香树光秃秃的枝桠上挂满了地雀精心编织的鸟窝。往下看,可以清楚地发现塔霍河河口半月型的形状,其实塔霍河河口是火山坑的残留部分。火山坑靠海的部分已经随着时间的流逝,还有潮汐的侵蚀而坍塌,海水也随之漫进这块地质学上的碗状结构,这块岩浆曾经肆虐的地方。我就是沿着残留下来的火山坑的边缘爬上来的。

  我现在地处加拉帕戈斯群岛,它位于距离南美洲太平洋海岸600英里的地方。我是参加了一个科学考察团,并乘船来到了这里的,其他的团友大都是海洋生物学家。由于这些岛屿横跨赤道,常识告诉我们这里会是炎热的热带。可这些岛屿同时还遭遇奇异洋流的冲刷,来自南极洲的洋流源源不断地送来冰冷的海水。活泼好动的企鹅就曾经顺着这股洋流北飘,而现在这些企鹅已经在加拉帕戈斯群岛安家落户。还有更多的动物、植物就是以漂流、飞翔或泅水的方式来到加拉帕戈斯群岛,并在这里扎根生存,加拉帕戈斯群岛与世隔绝的地理环境又直接决定这些动植物的生存模式。就比如说加拉帕戈斯海龟,它们在不同岛屿食物链的差异直接决定它们龟壳的形状和大小;还有鬣蜥,这里的鬣蜥已经学会了在水底潜水,并在岩石里找寻海藻进食;还有地雀,它们可以像啄木鸟一样捕食昆虫,区别在于它们鸟喙里夹着的树枝成了它们捕食的工具。整个科,甚至是整个纲的动植物好象发生了解剖学意义的改变,就是因为他们生存在被我的团友称为“进化摇篮”的地方。科学家们来到这里都期盼新的发现,希望能发现从未被人类发现的新物种。我也来到这里探求发现,当然了,我没有清晰的研究方向,有的只是埋藏在心灵深处的孩子般的好奇心。

  从某种程度来说,这个地方反映了我们接受面对现况的能力。在加拉帕戈斯群岛,没有人类自相矛盾的观点在混淆视听,一切都显得那么自然和明显。

  这里是地理上的一块异土,冰冷的洋流遭遇炎热的天空,随时都能扬起薄雾,让一切都模糊起来。我曾经一个人大清早呆在考察船的甲板上,周围雾气缭绕,就连几码外的物体都看不清。突然间,一头鲸鱼浮出水面并拍打尾鳍,就离我50码远的地方,完全被白色的雾气掩盖着。当时就我一个人在船尾,听见鲸鱼长啸一声从它庞大的肺部呼出一口气。听起来就好象整个大海都在呼气,在浪花、能量和光影中呼出沉淀了千百万年的记忆。迷雾渐渐散去,很有可能是被鲸鱼的呼吸所吹散。我终于看到了鲸鱼巨大的躯干,黑黝黝的,还跟轮船的底部一样黏附了很多藤壶,只见鲸鱼在水中从容地穿行。一时间我觉得恍恍惚惚,我明明身在甲板,可又感觉自己在不同的地方,自己孤独的灵魂就如同被鲸鱼的呼吸飞溅起的泡沫一样飘渺。就如同它突如其来地来,它也突如其来地消失,静悄悄地回到了水底。我还是一个人呆在甲板里,呆在这白色的迷雾里,耳边是海鸥的叫声,彼此尖叫的声音,最后连海鸥的声音也听不见了。难怪最先来到这里的西班牙人不知道这些岛屿是不是真的,在绘制地图的时候把这些岛屿命名为“奇幻岛”。

  现在,面对着坍塌的火山边缘,我意识到自己从山脊爬到山顶,而这山顶不单构成了塔霍河河口,同时也是另外一个完整的火山口的边缘,这个火山口继续向内陆蜿蜒几百米。一个叫查理斯?达尔文的年轻人在1835年的时候就曾经沿同一条路来到这里,不同的是他搭乘的是英国皇家海军勘探船“贝格尔号”,而他登陆的地点在伊莎贝拉岛。对这个博物学家来说,这些岛屿为他理解物种的起源提供了绝妙的契机。达尔文自己也从宗教徒转变为无神论者,可其中的不和谐是美妙的――他足足花了半辈子的时间做研究调查,并鼓足勇气承认动植物会因适应环境而改变。

这个内陆火山口的碗状底部就构成了一个天然湖,面积很小,灰蒙蒙的一片。需要下爬一段陡峭的山路才能抵达湖面,我自己是没有兴趣下去。达尔文当时在正午的炎热中来到这里,又没有水壶,他想着在湖里喝口水解渴。于是他毫不犹豫地爬了下来。他用双手捧起水往嘴里送,可让他觉得惊讶的是湖里的水居然比海水还咸。历史也铭记了这一刻,从此这个湖就被命名为“达尔文火山湖”。

  我拿起望远镜,往海洋的方向望去。可以看见塔霍河河口上那残缺的火山弹坑,有些还被埋没在水里。我还看见六七只绿色的海龟踩着彼此的龟壳在青绿色的海里打滚嬉戏,不时地扬起浪花,嶙峋的龟头显得那么沧桑古老。只见这些海龟安详地从水里探出头来,缓缓地咀嚼着空气。在这个人迹罕至的荒岛呆的一个多月的时间里,我已经多次在水里看到这种海龟。可每次我都会有莫名的感动,看到他们原始古朴的样子,像矫健的猎鹰一样在水里自如地滑行,还有他们眼睛里闪烁着的千年的智慧与沧桑。

  他们告诉我爬行动物是不会做梦的,其实早在人类进化到具备梦想的能力之前,爬行动物就在地球上生存了千万年。可我不禁猜想,他们需要做梦吗?在这个梦境般迷幻的地方?难道在水里像大鸟一样飞翔不自在吗?拍打着短小的翅膀可以随心所欲地去任何地方。

  我在静静地等待着鲸鱼的出现。我感觉听到了它和我道“晚安”的声音,远远地从海洋的深处传来。

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