How I wish my dear Emma could see me now.
I am composing the first "post" in a public diary that people here in the 21st century call a "blog." This was the idea of my two new acquaintances, Craig and Pamelia, who brought me to this future era in early 2015 by means I still do not understand. So much has changed in my two centuries away from everyday life. I feel like a stranger on my own planet, which I am relieved to report is still round.
What a world this is: I am writing (without pen or notebook!) while flying like an eagle, though even higher in the sky. If I told Emma this, she would laugh and proclaim, "Oh, Charles!" in that sweet voice of hers. My beloved wife would think me being playful as always. Little could she believe the fantastic yet true tale in which I now find myself.
If you are a 21st-century person reading this, you may not comprehend my shock at riding in a metal airship that is higher than the clouds and traveling 500 miles per hour. I am astonished to be sitting here, in a cushioned chair, by a porthole through which I can study the silver wing of the ship and, far below, the snowy peaks of the Andes Mountains in South America.
I have not seen those mountains since 1834.
In my lap at this moment is a thin, hinged box made, I believe, of the element aluminium. It opens to reveal, on the lower half, a grid of black keys bearing letters and numbers, like the typewriter devices that first appeared back home in England when I was in my 60s. Inside the top half is a glowing screen that shows me the letters and words that I create by touching the keys. It is a marvel!
I have no idea how it works.
My head is aswim in improbable facts. Craig and Pamelia are taking me to the South American country of Argentina—the whole distance in one day! From there we shall venture by ship to several islands and finally the icy world of Antarctica, of which my dearest friend, Joseph Hooker, told me so much after his voyage there in the early 1840s. I cannot believe that I shall see it for myself.
On the voyage there, I cannot wait to again lay eyes on the campfire-filled beaches of Tierra del Fuego in Argentina and the clumsy logger-headed ducks that I studied so long ago in the Falkland Islands. I owe a debt, and more than a little of my knowledge, to the rocks, fossils, wild animals and wild humans I encountered in those places in 1833 and 1834. At the time I was still a young man, not so long out of university and in my mid-20s. I was serving as a naturalist on Captain Robert FitzRoy's ship, the HMS Beagle. Perhaps you have heard of it.
I'll tell you about FitzRoy sometime. He had such a temper that on the Beagle we used to call him "Hot Coffee." I have many stories to share.
My companions Craig and Pamelia have told me that I must keep my writings short if I wish anyone to read them. Evidently much of human patience has been lost over the last two centuries of evolution. That is sad, and much faster than I would have hypothesized.
Yet I cannot but muse for a moment longer about the wonder of flying seven miles above the ground. Or of doing so with cords pushed into my ears though which I can hear music playing, with no musicians in sight! Oh Emma, I am not making this up!
I must finally remark upon a bird that this flight brings to mind, the Ruppell's griffon vulture.
I have been reading many books since I arrived in this century, and I learned that the Ruppell's griffon vulture—named for my esteemed 1800s naturalist contemporary from Germany, Eduard Ruppell—is able to fly 37,000 in the air, which is as high as the airship in which I am riding. One of the poor vultures was apparently swallowed by the engine of an airship at this altitude above Ivory Coast in Africa in the year 1973.
I read that the Ruppell's griffon vulture is only able to fly at that height—where humans would pass out from the lack of oxygen—because of a trait it acquired in slow changes over millions of years, through what I always called "descent with modification." You call it evolution.
The vultures have in their blood an unusual type of "hemoglobin" cell (we did not know of these cells in the 19th century) that is exceptionally good at absorbing oxygen and carrying it throughout the bird's body. We humans do not live at 37,000 feet of altitude, so we have had no reason to develop this trait ourselves.
I shall stop at that, for my airship is landing. I know that I have scarcely introduced myself, but I promise that I shall in future "posts." I look forward to sharing more with you and bid you farewell for now.
I must go and explore Tierra del Fuego.—Charles Darwin