Although Ritter was able to communicate in English, his April and 24 August 1934 letters to Captain Hancock indicate that he was not as fluent as the following text suggests. It is therefore assumed that his words were edited—or possibly translated from a German manuscript—presumably by someone at Atlantic Monthly. A bit repetitious in spots, but his account nevertheless presents a fascinating view of Floreana before the arrival of other settlers.
The odd Atlantic Monthly style (didn't = did n't, wouldn't = would n't, couldn't = could n't, and so on) is left as is. Centered roman numerals throughout all three articles follow Atlantic Monthly style applied to its feature articles.
Although measurements below are in English units (feet, miles, etc.), Ritter's own sketch maps (inserted “Adam and Eve,” Section IV below) give altitudes and area in metric units (meters, hectares). It is assumed here that the English units on this page were converted from metric by the Atlantic Monthly editor.
Hover over any text to display the Atlantic Monthly title.
On July 4, 1929, Dore Ritter§ and I, Friedrich Ritter, sailed from Amsterdam on board the freighter Boskop [sic, Boskoop] bound for the Galapagos Islands. To those who could not know or understand our motives, the journey upon which we had embarked must have seemed the strangest ever undertaken. Leaving behind me a lucrative practice of medicine in Berlin, I and my comrade were in fact turning our backs forever upon civilization and the society of our fellow men. Of our own free will and choice we were going into exile to seek in the solitude of an almost desert island in the far Pacific the independence, the peace of mind, the opportunity to cultivate our reflective powers to the fullest, which are denied to man by the complexities of modern life.
§ Dore gives the date as July 3. Ritter—or perhaps his Atlantic Monthly editor— refers to her as Dore Ritter, thereby implying they were a married couple. In fact, both were married to others, and her name was Dore Strauch Koerwin [emphases added]. A few sentences later, she is “my comrade,” and later, “Dore.” Still later, he describes himself and Dore as The Ritters, and in the final installment, Dore is “my inseperable companion.” His actual marital status is never mentioned; nor is hers. The only hint is a newspaper interview with an un-named Ecuadorian naval officer, who says that “A German couple are living as man and wife on Floreana,” thereby inviting readers to speculate that they are not married (to each other), but are living as though they were.
My decision to go into solitude was not a rash inspiration; for twenty years the idea had been maturing in my mind. But I had early perceived that one must learn to wait, even though patience, as Nietzche says, is the most difficult of virtues. Now, at the age of forty-three, my time had come, and I did not hesitate to take the bold step which I had so long forseen as an inevitable one for me. Every human life follows natural laws in its development, and if I am to make my ‘unnatural’ decision to forsake society seem natural to others, as it unquestionably was to me, I shall have to sketch a few facts of my childhood and youth which will be enough to explain me as the Homo solitarius. One does not have to be a psychoanalyst to read between the lines of my brief history and see why I am I.
My father was a farmer's son, a land owner of Wollback in the Black Forest. Ambitious, economical, industrious, he became in the course of time a storekeeper and bought the goods for the whole community. He was also a carpenter and contracted for the construction of houses. My mother was from the southwestern part of the forest. She was a good wife, a patient mother, and in every way complemented the good qualities of my father. I was always a small and sickly child, frequently tormented by colds, headaches, earaches, and other minor ailments. For this reason my parents wanted to defer my enrollment at school, but upon my urgent insistence I was allowed to enter. Our school-master was exceedingly strict. He was a firm believer in the virtues of a hazel switch, which he never let out of his hand. He would keep us attentive and awake by brandishing it threateningly over our heads. When I was eight or nine years old we had for a teacher an even greater tyrant. His method of instilling wisdom into us was to thrash our bottoms. The harshness of this discipline by which the world of my childhood was ruled made a lasting impression upon me.
I learned, however, that I could find release from his rigid system by escaping into the bosom of nature. The forest lay all about us, and at every opportunity I would go off alone to ramble through the woods. I loved the beauty of the age-old trees, the majestic silence of those shaded paths where I could be myself and think my own thoughts more freely than anywhere else. It fascinated me to observe the birds and animals and to learn their habits. In the depths of the forest there was a deep, clear pool full of trout which I visited frequently, spending hours on end just watching them. One large fellow was there year after year and I always knew where to find him. In these expeditions I discovered that my greatest pleasure lay in following my own whims wherever they might lead, without having to accommodate my wishes to the will of others. Though I had a sister, she was twelve years older than I and rarely interfered with my solitary games, as other children are wont to do, for she was away at school most of the time. I might as well have been an only child.
My father used to take me hunting with him and instructed me in the careful use of firearms. He tried to awaken in me an interest in this sport, but without success. I could never find any enjoyment in the wanton killing of harmless animals. It always made me sad even to see wild things held captive in cages. One day my father caught in a box trap a red-tailed bird that had been eating our bees. He gave me the box and told me to carry the bird home. On the way I peeped in and saw the poor thing huddled in the far corner, frightened and cowering. Without debating the consequences of my disobedience, I opened the door wide and let it fly away. I was ashamed that I had betrayed my father's trust, but I was also glad that the bird had escaped.
Since my father was a carpenter as well as a storekeeper, I received a thorough training in the use of hammer and saw. All of my playthings were handmade; either I made them myself or my father helped me. I also developed an early interest in machinery. The pride of my mother's life was a sewing machine which my father had bought for her. As soon as it entered our house I felt an irrestible desire to take it apart. One day when the coast was clear I did take it apart. Fortunately for me, when I put it back together again it ran better than before. After that it was always entrusted to my fixing when something went wrong. I was not so lucky, however, with a telephone, for I almost burned down the house by tampering with it.
As my schooling progressed I began to read intensively. Among the books which made the strongest impression on my imagination were Robinson Crusoe and Cooper's Leatherstocking tales. Growing older, I began to devote all my energies to serious studies. I attended a Realschule as well as a Gymnasium, and then went on to the University of Freiburg, where I studied chemistry, physics, philosophy, and later, medicine. At twenty I married.§ Soon after the outbreak of the war I became a soldier and went through the ‘steel bath’ in the artillery corps. At the conclusion of the hostilities I returned once more to my studies, passed my medical examination, and began to practice my profession in Berlin.
§ According to Dore Strauch, Ritter married at twenty-one, and his wife became an opera singer. Dore does not mention her name (Mila Clark) in her book.
During all this time the one fixed idea with which I seemed to have been born was maturing in my brain, and my contacts with the world had only served to strengthen it. Organized society appeared to me a huge, impersonal monster forging ever-new chains with which to shackle the free development of its members. Moreover, I saw that the world was chasing madly after the ephemeral and valueless things of life. Civilized man works for money and his labor is rarely requited according to its importance or usefulness; on the contrary, the most superfluous and luxurious positions are usually the most lucrative. Instinctively I rebelled against the necessity of fitting my own life to this mould which other men had cast. The mysticism of the Chinese revealed to me one alternative, the philosophy of Tolstoy another. Out of all my studies there gradually emerged a philosophy of my own, and with this to guide me I saw that my only course lay in following the road leading to a purely subjective existence. I would flee the beaten paths of man, put aside all the irrelevant trappings of civilization, and seek a solitude where I could at last live wholly and completely in contemplation and communion with nature.
Fortunately, I had in Dore a companion who fully shared my point of view, and who was not appalled by the prospect of the physical hardships which a woman would have to endure in the wilderness. When the time came to broach a definite plan, she was ready to embrace it – not in submission to my wishes, but with enthusiasm equal to mine. So, to the consternation of all our friends and relatives, we settled our affairs, got together a store of such provisions as we thought we should need, and set forth upon our great adventure. That July morning two years ago when we stepped aboard the Boskop at Amsterdam, we realized without regret that we had severed the last tie which bound us to the common lot.
I shall not bother to give an account of our voyage, which must have been very much like any other. It will be more to the point to explain why we selected the Galapagos—of all places in the world—for our unique experiment.
These islands, some fifty in number, form an archipelago off the western coast of South America and belong to the Republic of Ecuador. They lie directly on the equator. The larger islands are inhabited; some of the smaller ones remain without human intruders. Charles Darwin, when he sailed as naturalist on the Beagle, touched at the islands, and in his journal of the voyage gave the first full account of their many striking peculiarities. He noted that they were volcanic in origin and only partly given over to vegetation. Very little rain falls, but the clouds generally hang low, so that on the higher slopes of the extinct volcanoes there is enough moisture to promote a lush growth of tropical plants, while the lower parts of the islands are extremely arid. The climate is astonishingly mild for the torrid zone, for a cool trade wind blows over the islands the year round and the Humboldt current, flowing northward from the Antarctic, gives the surrounding waters of the Pacific a singularly low temperature.
‘The natural history of this archipelago,’ wrote Darwin, ‘is very remarkable. It seems to be a little world within itself; the greater number of its inhabitants, both vegetable and animal, being found nowhere else.’ He had a great deal to say about the giant tortoises for which the islands have since become famous, and concluded with this remark about one member of the group: ‘I should think it would be difficult to find in any other part of the world an island situated within the tropics, [and of such considerable size (namely 75 miles long),] so sterile and incapable of supporting life.’ §
§ Ritter apparently had read the first edition of Darwin's Journal where the “is very remarkable” phrase appears—changed to “is very curious” in the second and later editions. The final sentence appears only in Darwin's first edition, and Ritter omits the phrase shown above within brackets.
The description is forbidding enough, yet, strange to say, this was the exact spot on which we had set our hopes.§ And not without reason. We were fleeing from the world; it would never do for our settlement to become so attractive that the world would flock to us. From all I could learn, the conditions of soil and climate were such that we could raise enough food for two people—and little more. That was just what we wanted; only enough for two meant no neighbors. Moreover, I had decided that we must go to the tropics, because in my German home the winter extends through three quarters of the year and it rains during half of the summer. Such a climate is in no wise suited to solitude. I needed uniformity of day and season, a climate as unchangeable as possible; no confusion, but eternal regularity. The Galapagos Islands satisfied this condition perfectly. Then, too, they promised us the advantages of the tropics without their disadvantages. As Darwin had pointed out, they lie on the equator, but are much cooler than their position would seem to warrant.
§ Actually, Darwin was referring to Albemarle Island (the modern Isla Isabela) and not to Charles Island (Isla Floreana), where Ritter and Dore Strauch settled. As noted in the previous footnote, Ritter omitted the “considerable size” phrase, which would have made it clear that the described island was not Floreana.
We had selected for our experiment the island of Floreana, one of the smallest of the group, and upon its desolate beach we were at length put ashore, together with our baggage and supplies, comprising in all some eight hundred-weight of freight. Before we left Germany we had taken great pains to draw up a list of the many things we should need upon such a venture. We eliminatedjj every luxury, but took careful precautions not to omit any necessity. Once we found ourselves in that distant part of the world, the chance of supplementing our stores would be very remote. Unlike Robinson Crusoe, we should not have a wrecked ship to plunder at our leisure.
We had brought along, then, a sufficient assortment of clothes, cooking utensils, and such building materials as nails, wire, and rope. We had laid in a supply of woolen goods, cotton stuffs, and canvas. I had purchased every conceivable tool that I thought would be needed, not only for construction work, but for agriculture, and had collected the seeds of all vegetables and fruits which might be made to grow in that climate. Among our other stores were guns and ammunition, books (most of them philosophical), writing materials, and a small collection of livestock consisting of a crate of chickens and two cats. Last but not least, my teeth were in a deplorable condition, so before leaving Germany I had a set of false teeth made of rust-proof steel.
With these provisions we were now to subdue the wilderness and make a home for ourselves.
The first thing we had to do was to find a shelter until we could build a house of our own, and we were overjoyed to discover that nature had generously anticipated our wants. Behind the long, sloping beach the land rose gradually in a series of irregular hills overgrown with thorn bushes; beyond towered the volcanic mountains, the backbone of the island—monuments to the violent passions of Mother Earth in an age long past. A short search among the foothills revealed to us a number of rough caves in the black lava rock, formed, no doubt, by the hardening of the lava into successive ridges which were later bridged over by new flows that left air pockets in the hills.§ In these caves we could take refuge from both rain and sun until, by our own labor, we should be able to erect a more commodious and comfortable dwelling place. We selected for our temporary home the largest cave we could find and made storehouses of some of the smaller ones, to which we dragged up from the beach such of our provisions as would be likely to suffer damage from the weather.
§ For reasons unknown, Ritter does not mention the bench and fireplace carved into the cave walls by an unknown predecessor.
The task of transporting our supplies even so short a distance was extremely difficult work. The lava surface was rough beyond description, broken as it was by endless contortions and sharp edges which made mere walking a laborious process. To pick our way over such treacherous ground when we were laden with heavy boxes and crates are precarious indeed—any misstep might mean a sprained ankle or a broken leg. Moreover, the thicket of thorn bushes, the only plants which could find nourishment in this barren soil, was almost impenetrable, and I had first to hew out a path with my axe.
The direct rays of the tropical sun soon converted our rocky pass into an inferno of dancing heat waves. For relief we were forced to discard all our clothing except high hip boots, which we thought it advisable to put on to protect our feet and legs against the jagged rocks. Henceforth this was to be our conventional garb. On those first few days we must have presented a curious spectacle, had there been any other human eyes to spy upon us: our bodies beet-red from the sun, we were a toiling Adam and Eve—in boots.
After we had spent several days in the caves and had given out too-civilized muscles an opportunity to relax, we set out to explore our island and look for a permanent home site. The shape of the island, we learned, was roughly that of a peanut in which one kernal has failed to mature to normal size. To the north lay the atrophied kernel, to the south the full kernel, the two joined by a narrow isthmus.§ Across this isthmus ran the range of old volcanoes which extended the full length of the island, the higher peaks hidden in banks of fleecy clouds. The point at which we had been put ashore was a bay on the western coast where the two kernels of the nut come together. The open harbor is deep enough to afford a sheltered anchorage for occasional ships that put in there for fresh water and fruits. These ships, which come only at rare intervals, give us our only contact with civilization and are obliging enough to take whatever letters we wish to send to the outside world. For this reason we have since named the spot Post Office Bay.§§
§ There is little or no resemblance between Ritter's description and the actual contour of the island. Nor does it resemble his own sketch maps of the island, which appeared in Ritter's posthumous Als Robinson … (1935) and Strauch's Satan Came to Eden (1936), but not in this Atlantic Monthly series.
§§ Another puzzlement: the well-known Post Office Bay is on the north side of the island, and his Post Office Bay on the western shore is actually Black Beach. Yet as the above sketch map shows, he knew the location of the actual Post Office Bay.
Upon one of our early journeys of exploration we turned eastward to cross the isthmus and see what lay upon the other side. The ubiquitous thorn bushes and the rough lava slopes made our progress both slow and tortuous, but at length we topped the divide. From this vantage point we could look back upon Post Office Bay and the desolate expanse of black and brown hills up which we had toiled. On the other side the Pacific again met our gaze, stretching away in a waveless blue expanse to the far horizon. As we descended we emerged upon an overhanging shelf of rock that commanded a view of the whole eastern side of the island, and suddenly there opened beneath us a scene of ravishing beauty. On the crest of one of the lower peaks there lay, like a huge horseshoe carved in basalt, the crater of an extinct volcano, its rim a solid wall on three sides but worn down to form an opening at one end. Up to this moment we had encountered only a dead and thorny waste, but here our tired eyes feasted upon a leafy sea of verdant greenness. This natural amphitheatre was a veritable paradise of tropical vegetation.
We made our way down into the crater with all possible haste, plunging at once into a jungle of trees, vines, tall weeds and grasses. All about grew tropical fruits in abundance, including bananas, oranges, pineapples, lemons, guavas, papayas, and many others which I could not identify. In the centre of the fertile basin welled up a clear spring, the source of a tiny brook which wound its way toward the open end of the crater wall and thence tumbled down to the sea. The secret of this sudden burst of verdure in the midst of the surrounding waste land lies in the mountains themselves. As I have already pointed out, very little rain falls in the Galapagos, but the volcanic peaks are high enough to bathe themselves in the low-lying clouds, from which the thirsty earth draws moisture to support a lush growth of vegetable life. It is one of the many paradoxes of this strange land.
Our preliminary survey satisfied us that we had found the ideal spot for our future home. The little valley which forms this natural garden lies almost five hundred feet up on the side of a mountain, and through the open end of the horseshoe rim it affords an unobstructed view of the ocean two miles away.§ It would be a superb site for a house. The soil was a rich black, once we had cleared it of weeds, rocks, and superfluous trees, we could make it yield us a plentiful supply of food.
§ The crater floor is about 1,400 feet above sea level, and the ocean almost four miles south of its open end. Oddly enough, Ritter and Strauch settled slightly west of the crater—not within it as described here. In fact, their site shown on Ritter's own sketch maps (both labeled “Frido”) is at about 500 feet elevation and approximately 1.4 miles from the ocean. The Google Earth coordinates are 01°17.034' S, 90°28.202' W (degrees, decimal minutes),§§ now the site of the Cruz family residence. Additional “circumstantial evidence” that this was the site of Friedo may be found in Margret Wittmer's Floreana Adventure (pp. 70-71):
“The Governor of the Galapagos Islands … granted us … fifty acres. The same applied to Ritter” [emphasis added].
Fifty acres = 2,178,000 square feet, or a plot that is 1,475.80' × 1,475.80.' Ritter's hand-drawn sketch map gives the Friedo area as 20 hectares, which yields dimensions of 1,467' × 1,467.' A Google Earth view of the Cruz/Ritter property shows a faint outline of a diagonal square. Each side is about 1,430 feet—a reasonably-close match to the measurements of both Wittmer (50 acres) and Ritter (20 hectares)—thus suggesting this is Ritter's original fence line.
§§ Coordinates courtesy Dr. Randy Moore and Ms. Roslyn Cameron, as part of their research for a guide book—anticipated title and publication date: Galápagos Revealed: The Untold Stories, 2015.
I suggested to Dore that we abandon our caves at once and take possession here, and playfully added that to make it legal we ought to serve notice of our occupancy with fitting ceremony. ‘Splendid!’ laughed Dore. ‘We'll christen the valley and I'll honor the occasion with a ceremonial dance. That ought to make it legal enough.’ Immediately she fitted action to word. Just as she used to dance to music at home, so now she danced to the music of nature's silent melodies. Infected by her joyousness, I stooped to the spring and, sprinkling a few drops of the earth, pronounced the land ours: ‘In the name of the Ritters I take possession of thee, O lovely valley, against all comers, and with thine own pure waters I christen thee Friedo, our Garden of Peace.’ §
§ Coincidentally, the Wittmers named their house “Casa de la Paz” (House of Peace). In the Epilogue to the 1989 reprint edition of Margret Wittmer's Floreana, she writes (p. 236) of her property:
“Truly an asylum of peace in this much troubled world.” This is presumably the source for the Asilo de la Paz seen in many recently-published texts.
Hardly had the words issued from my mouth when, casting an appreciative glance about our new domain, my eye was suddenly arrested by the dark forms of several large animals outlined against the sky upon the crater rim. They appeared to resemble nothing so much as cattle, and they seemed to be quietly grazing, unaware of our presence so near them. Were they some unknown species of Galapagos buffalo? We could not imagine what they migbt be, and our misgivings were natural enough under the circumstances. So far as we knew, the island sheltered no dangerous animals, yet the huge beasts there above us might prove that all the books were wrong. It was far from pleasant at that moment to realize that we were two weak human beings utterly alone in a land of strange surprises, naked and defenseless except for my low-calibre rifle which I had been wise enough to bring along.
Determined to put an end to the uncertainty of our situation, I bid Dore take refuge in a clump of small trees while I crept cautiously up to the higher ground to investigate. Imagine my immense relief and almost equal amazement when I came close enough to the beasts to see that they were indeed cattle—a bull and three cows—and as much at home in this wild country as if they were grazing in some farmer's pasture. With this reassuring discovery I stood up in plain view of them; whereupon they gave evidence of as much surprise at seeing me as I had first felt at seeing them. They wheeled about, bellowing frantically, and bounded over the rocks with remarkable nimbleness for such heavy creatures; then disappeared beyond the rim of the crater.
This comic performance put to flight all our fears, but left us with a mystery on our hands. What were cows doing here? It was another Galapagos paradox. Then I recalled a bit of the history of the island which I had forgotten in my moment of panic. Some years ago a group of hardy pioneers had attempted to make a settlement on Floreana, but after a futile struggle they gave up the project and departed. They must have brought live stock with them, and it now occurred to me that they must also have abandoned some of their animals to shift for themselves when they left.
Our subsequent experiences have confirmed this conjecture as the true explanation. We were not long in learning that there were not only cows upon the island, but also most of the other beasts which man has learned to tame. These, the descendants of the domesticated animals brought in by the pioneers, had, in the long absence of human beings, reverted to their original state in nature. Had we but known it, there was good reason after all for our first misgivings. We had fled from the society of overcivilized man, but now we had for neighbors a vagrant colony of wild cattle, wild hogs, wild asses, wild dogs, and wild tabby cats. They ranged over the whole island and seemed to resent our intrusion upon their preserve. As my narrative progresses I shall have a great deal more to say about these perverted creatures and their almost devilish attempts to thwart our plans.
We wanted eventually to build a solid house that would harmonize with the Galapagos landscape and endure permanently the ravages of the tropical climate. With such materials as we had at hand this would require months, and perhaps years, of labor. Meanwhile we could not continue to live in the caves and exhaust our strength climbing back and forth over the mountain. So I set about clearing the ground for a more or less temporary shelter.
Inexperienced as I then was, the work of breaking out this first open space in the jungle was the hardest I had ever undertaken. It gave me a foretaste of what was in store for me when the time came to lay out our garden. But although my hands were blistered and my muscles ached, I could not think of it as drudgery. With each tree that fell as I advanced with my axe I experienced the joy of achievement. The dream of my life was at last becoming a reality. And in the process Dore and I were learning what it means to grow in harmonious accord with nature. Each object in Friedo was gradually becoming a part of us: each stone, each tree, each foot of soil took on a personality as the embodiment of a bit of toil, a conscious thought, a benediction, or a curse.
At first my heartiest curses were reserved for this Galapagos wood, which is as ill-suited for building purposes as one could well imagine. There were only two kinds of trees from which to choose my lumber for construction work—one a heartwood which is so hard that I have never been able to drive a nail straight into it, the other a species of acacia which grows only in curves. The heartwood was impossible, so I had to adapt my plans to the nature of the sinuous acacia—I built a circular house. When the walls were finished, I covered the structure with some roofing felt which I had brought from Germany, and the result was pleasing enough. At any rate it stood the test of the first rainfall.
Later, however, the sun aided the obstinate acacia in its wrath against us for putting it to such arbitrary uses. As the house dried out, the wood began to curl anew, great cracks appearing between the boards until our shelter looked like the skeleton of some prehistoric monster. We were afraid it would keep on curling until the whole thing fell apart, but at this juncture a Norwegian ship put into Post Office Bay and we secured from it thirty-six corrugated iron plates, which I laid on the roof to help hold the boards in place by their added weight. But by this time the acacia sprang another trick on us even more surprising. The rainy season was over and the moisture brought the dead wood to life again. It began to send forth shoots; green leaves appeared on the jambs and rafters; in fact, fine sprouting took place everywhere out of the sweet bast wood.§ We found ourselves dwelling in a ‘living’ house.
§ Perhaps a reference to bast fibre.
Fortunately, it did n't matter how many cracks and fissures developed in the sides of our dwelling so long as the roof stayed on, for the climate is uniformly mild in all seasons. It is warm enough to permit complete nakedness even in the early morning. A roof on poles, with mosquito netting for protection against the insects, would be shelter enough. The wind is hardly ever squally, never strong, and even if it blew a gale it would n't bother us, enclosed as we are by the rim of the crater.§ Nevertheless, our gentle wind makes its influence felt in Friedo in a striking feature of the landscape: since it always blows from one point of the compass, all the trees and plants grow obliquely.
§ Again, a puzzlement: Ritter's “house” was built to the west of the crater, and not enclosed within its rim.
At the equator it is meaningless to divide the year into spring, summer, fall, and winter, but Europeans find it difficult to break this verbal habit.§ In the Galapagos we have only rainy and dry seasons—two of each. The year begins with a rainy season. For days on end the higher mountain tops disappear in heavy clouds and we have regular morning showers, usually light and of short duration. Then it is that Friedo begins to don its robe of most luxurious green. Afterward we have a period of great drought, accompanied by a remarkable cessation of vegetable growth. The sun shines brilliantly for weeks together, and some of the tropical trees lose all their leaves just as if it were winter. The sea lies blue and calm with hardly a ripple upon its surface. Then comes a second rainy season with the September equinox. Many fruits now begin to ripen, but there are numerous exceptions to the rule. Oranges and lemons, for example, stay ripe through half the year. Finally, in November, another dry period begins.
§ Including Ritter himself, who mentions “the Galapagos winter” in his final installment.
In the olden days, before the advent of man upon these shores, the giant tortoises used to come out of the ocean and clamber up into these hills and mountains to drink the fresh water. They came in such numbers that they beat out hard paths through the woods and thorn thickets, forming an intricate system of natural highways that wind and interlace over the whole island. Recently the wild dogs abandoned here by the first settles have killed off great numbers of the tortoises, as their shells and skeletons in every part of the island prove only too well. The others have evidently been frightened away by this wholesale butchery of their friends and relatives and now they rarely come ashore here, although they may still be seen swimming about in the surrounding waters.§
§ Presumably Ritter was better at medicine than natural history. Giant tortoises don't go anywhere near the ocean, and went extinct on Floreana long before his arrival. If he saw tortoise remains, they were probably from those brought to Floreana by the Norwegian settlers. Furthermore, female sea turtles don't go any farther ashore than the beach, where they lay their eggs before returning to the ocean.
Nevertheless, their ancient paths remain and are now used by all the other animals in their ceaseless wanderings. Our valley had evidently been a favorite rendezvous for them, at night they descended upon us from all directions, the wild asses announcing their approach by the thunder of their hoofs upon the stones, the others by their cries. If we were to have a garden, it soon became apparent to us that we should first have to build a fence about our domain to keep off these marauding herds. After weeks of toil the fence became a reality, but it was not a complete success. The smaller animals scaled it or came through the cracks; the larger one crashed through it in the darkness, and almost every morning it was necessary to make repairs.
Our daylight hours are never dull; there is always work to do and on no two successive days are our labors quite the same. The nights, however, are all alike—an endless round of wild and savage noises. When the sun sets blood-red into the sea, darkness comes on rapidly. Blossoms close for the night and for a brief space all nature is hushed. The only sound is the hum of myriad insects' wings. Then, as at a given signal, pandemonium breaks loose. The full moon of the tropics brings all the wild things forth from their hiding places, and those that are tortured by the pangs of hunger or love carry on their raucous struggle for existence just beyond our door. In our light shelter we might as well be sleeping in the open, so little does it cut us off from the bedlam outside. All night the air is rent by the cries of these animals.
The asses bray to each other, and their braying is a curious blend of melancholy and defiance which seems to express their pent-up sense of the injustice their race has suffered through centuries of abuse. Many times during those first nights I rushed from my pallet, waving my arms and shouting to frighten them away, but it was a useless waste of energy. They always returned to take up their concert where they had left off. After we built our fence they thought up a new game: they seemed to consider it the greatest sport in the world to gallop round and round the enclosure, hurling their shrill challenges to us to come forth and chase them off. The cows lowed and bellowed, the pigs grunted and squealed, the hounds bayed at the moon and yelped in pursuit of the cats, while the cats made savage love and fought each other as is their immemorial habit.
All this was orchestrated as a devils' chorus. We had to learn to accustom ourselves to it before we could lie down to rest with any assurance that we should sleep.
Everybody who has ever dreamed of an experiment such as ours—and many more there are who have toyed with the idea than will ever dare to think seriously of putting it into execution—paints in his fancy a particular picture of an idyllic life for two. There is always implicit in this picture something of Adam, Eve, and Paradise, but it is always a special Adam, a special Eve, and a special Paradise. Hence it is destined to remain only a picture, more beautiful, more celestial than can ever be realized. All human desires and longings take into account only the positive and agreeable aspect of things. Indeed, it would hardly seem worth the effort to strive for any goal if the disagreeable obstacles to its attainment were focused too clearly in our thoughts. Thus it is that the imaginative optimism of the human mind gives us the power, unconscious but dynamic, to move mountains.
‘This is the best of all possible worlds,’ affirms Nietzsche with his characteristic optimism, ‘for if it were still better it would no longer be earth, but heaven.’§ To this the pessimism of Schopenhauer replies, ‘This is the worst of all possible worlds, for if it were any worse it could no longer exist as earth—it would be hell.’§§ Who shall say which one of these judgments is the right one? To me it seems that both are right; each is necessary to explain the other. Heaven and hell are states of mind. How could we even imagine a heaven if we had not already experienced a hell to give it meaning?
§ Actually the quotation is from Gottfried Leibniz's Essais de Théoddicée ….
§§ Arthur Schopenhauer, in The World as Will and Representation.
So with us at Friedo. The heaven on earth for which we are working is not some silly theologian's dream of a golden city where all the creature comforts denied us in the practical life shall be offered us for the taking. Our heaven is a pure state of mind, a sense of mental peace to be achieved through self-knowledge, and to this end our work contributes in the fullest degree. It may seem to others that we who have come so far in search of this heaven have only succeeded in discovering a very special kind of hell. True, we toil and moil against greater odds and bear daily a far heavier burden of labor than is required of most men and women in civilized society. Still, we regard our lot as the preferable one for us. We two are the absolute masters of our destiny as you who remain in Europe and America can never hope to be. Here in the desolate solitude of the Galapagos our lives are entirely submissive to a purely personal and inward sense of duty. We were able, therefore, to proceed with the immensely difficult job of clearing the ground for our garden without being discouraged or overwhelmed by the peculiar hardships involved.
That, however, is a story in itself. Next month I shall send you another article describing how, like the real Adam and Eve, we actually turned this wilderness into a flourishing garden by the sweat of our brows, and how nature itself tried to thwart our plans at every point. I shall tell you about our most fiendish neighbors, the devil pigs. Later I shall hope to have you as my guest in Friedo for one day (I doubt if either of us would appreciate a longer visit), so that you may see for yourself just how we live and spend our time.
Until then — Auf Wiedersehen!
(Dr. Ritter's next chapter will be ‘Satan Walks in the Garden’)
In my first article I told you how Dore and I came to the desert island of Floreana in the Galapagos, having resolved to turn our backs forever upon civilization and establish for ourselves a solitude in the far Pacific. This spot is ideally suited to our purposes. We enjoy a tropical climate which is warm enough to enable us to go entirely without clothes, like the original Adam and Eve in the first earthly paradise, and at the same time cool enough, because of the constant trade winds, to keep us from becoming sluggish and enervated. We are living in the crater of an extinct volcano that lies high up on the side of a mountain overlooking the ocean. Here we built a temporary shelter to serve as our base of operations while we set about clearing the ground for our vegetable garden.
All about us lies a desolate waste land of brown bushes, the only plants hardy enough to exist upon the dry and rocky hillsides, but our little valley is a veritable oasis in the midst of this desert. A large spring bubbles up in the centre of it to nourish a lush growth of tropical trees and fruits. We have christened the place Friedo, our Garden of Peace, and it would indeed by a garden of perfect peace if it were not for our only neighbors—some animals that were abandoned here by earlier colonists. there are cows, hogs, asses, dogs, and cats, at one time domesticated; in the long absence of man they have grown wild and now range like savage beasts over the whole island. To protect ourselves against them, one of our first tasks was to erect a fence about our domain.
We had been here only a few months when a friend in Germany sent us a clipping from a Berlin newspaper which had somehow got wind of our experiment and had published a long article about it.
The editor, with the omniscience that is characteristic of certain members of his profession, did not hesitate to analyze the motives which had prompted us in our strange flight from civilization. Said he: —
Surely Dr. Ritter must have something of the adventurer in him, something which only the bizarre and sensational could satisfy. His experiment seems to be another way of escaping from the cares and dilemmas of the everyday world—a philosopher's way out. And it is a better way than that which many others have adopted—those who suddenly disappear from their accustomed haunts to roam the streets of distant cities, and finally turn up in a sanitarium or go insane or commit suicide, as so frequently happens nowadays. This Dr. Ritter is just another example of a restless thinker who, not content with life and lacking the strength of will to adjust himself to it, is helpless to face the battle of reality and gives up the struggle. But in this case he seems to have found a new one.
No doubt many people will share this opinion, and it will probably be a waste of time for me to attempt to correct it. Besides, it matters very little to us what others may think; by coming here we have freed ourselves from the fear of hostile opinion. Just the same, if the reader is to understand the real meaning of our adventure, he must resist the natural temptation to dismiss us as two hysterical people who have gone into ‘the blue’ to find surcease from the struggle with reality. We have not at all withdrawn from life; we have merely withdrawn from a certain kind of life—the too highly mechanized existence of modern society.
Here in our tropical island we are living more fully, more vitally, then ever, and are not praying to material gods. It seems to us now that the outside world is altogether too poor for us to ever think of returning to it. We are in a new land which has something new to offer us—something which civilization has not. I feel that I am born again, that I have awakened to a new birth. The tyranny of dull routine, of established schedules and programmes, is over for us. Instead, we are now able to live just as we please.
And nothing could be further from the truth than to say that we have sought to escape from reality. In clearing this wilderness to make of it a suitable dwelling place, we are grappling every hour of the day with a primitive, dynamic reality which civilized man in his cities and towns has all but forgotten. Of our own free will we have taken on a burden of work that keeps us strenuously occupied from morning till night. Surely no romantic dreamer would knowingly take refure in an ‘ivory tower’ such as this!
I often ask myself why I labor so hard, and what, specifically, is the satisfaction that I get out of it, for I am well aware that the work is intensively satisfying. My answer is that I find in this life an inward consciousness of an urgent duty performed. It makes of the hardest toil a joy. It is a kind of quiet happiness that springs from self-directed endeavor and endures long after each task is finished.
To illustrate the nature of our difficulties, let me describe briefly some of the conditions with which we have had to deal. At one time our Friedo was sea ground, and a fatty white clay collected on the rocky lava. Little by little the land rose out of the sea, and in the process the breakers washed lava fragments of all forms and sizes into the soft mud. Then one day a raging crater split the shore in two and spouted liquid fire high into the glowing air. This rain of melted stone fell hissing into the boiling sea, breaking into gravel and fine sand which covered the clay and the boulders several yards deep. With the passage of time the gravel bed hardened into a layer of natural cement. Titanic powers pushed the island higher and higher above the ocean level, then rain gradually permitted the first pioneers of the flora to gain a foothold. Through the centuries the plants overlaid the gravel bed with the vegetable loam of their dead bodies. This is now exceedingly rich soil, but it is not very deep.
Impatient man, however, cannot wait until the soil is deep enough for his pretentious cultivated plants. He must forcibly distribute Mother Earth to suit his arbitrary purposes. Here he levels down, there he fills up, for his foot demands a comfortable plain to walk on as he labors. Thus, after the trees and shrubs were cleared, we have to remove lava slabs and great boulders, then cart soil from dawn till sunset to level the surface and make it ready for planting. Months were consumed in this back-breaking toil.
When we had so carefully laid in our provisions before leaving Germany it had never occurred to us that we should need a wheelbarrow, so we had to do a great part of our landscape gardening with mere shovels and buckets. Later we were lucky enough to obtain a wheelbarrow from a passing ship; The ship which did us this service was the Mizpah. It was not really a ship, but a pleasure yacht from Chicago, commanded by Commodore Eugene F. McDonald, Jr. He and some of his guests took the trouble to pay us a visit while his vessel lay at anchor in Post Office Bay. They expressed great surprise when they saw how much of the dense jungle we had already subdued with the limited means at our disposal, and the Commodore readily volunteered the wheelbarrow when I mentioned our need of one.
At my urgent insistence he was also prevailed upon to leave us a quantity of dynamite, together with detonator caps for setting it off. I wanted it to use in blasting out stumps; without it I had only my axe, and the job seemed almost hopeless. The Commodore was troubled by this request, apparently fearing that we should blow ourselves to bits along with the stumps. In the end, however, I overcame his caution by explaining to him that I was not only a student of chemistry but had had practical experience with dynamite, having handled large quantities of it during the war.
Every day for months, while we were occupied in clearing the ground and leveling it off, our feet had to remain in wet shoes We could not work in bare feet because there were too many small, sharp stones in the mud. The bed of a tiny brooklet served us quite successfully as a track for our wheelbarrow. In this fashion the damp earth of Friedo was dug out of the swamp around the spring and distributed where we wanted it. As for the blocks of lava, they had to be prized up and carried off. I should never have thought it possible that two weak human beings could move such stones with nothing to aid them but patience and a crowbar. When we actually did it, not once but countless times, I understood the exclamation of an ancient Greek physicist, ‘Give me a firm point and I will lift the earth from its hinges!’
§ δῶς μοι πᾶ στῶ καὶ τὰν γᾶν κινάσω. Archimedes: “Give me the place to stand, and I shall move the earth.”
All along it had been my fixed idea to lay out our guides in an orderly manner, not being content merely to plant seeds hit or miss wherever nature has chanced to provide soil deep enough for them to take root. The plan was exceedingly difficult to execute. Just in the middle of the choicest spots the surly old earth spirits, with the inveterate hatred of any geometric design, seemed to have rolled the largest chunks of lava. Ours was the drudgery of putting their confusion to rights in a more or less intelligent way.
I know well enough that no other man would have been so stupid as to attempt to correct the bungling of nature. In fact, nature herself seemed to be aware that she had found a foolish one, for she kept whispering in my ear, ‘The removal of this or that boulder is all that is lacking to make this a paradise’—and I was donkey enough to believe her. But who shall say that she cheated me, now that I have done her bidding and corrected her faults? We cannot expect to find a paradise anywhere unless we are willing to create it.
Too often people with ambitious plans attempt not only to corect nature but also to defy her, and only learn by sad experience that natural laws cannot be altered to suit the whims of man. I wished to avoid this mistake by imitating the Chinese, who set out their plants and trees where they can grow in their most appropriate environment. To provide a space for our vegetabe garden I had to transplant many of the native fruit trees which I was loath to destroy outright. But even when I sought for them more congenial surroundings than they originally enjoyed, it seemed strange how often my benevolent intentions were thwarted. For example, I would set a tree here, only to have it react in a way which told me as plainly as words, ‘No, I can't settle my roots deep enough; this subsoil is too stony.’ Another would say, ‘This earth is too wet; my roots rot.’ A third would demand dry, porous soil.
The bananas and papayas had to be placed within the limited tract that was watered by the spring. To this end heavy rocks had to be dug out to make a place for them, and the pit had to be charged with good earth. Even then our toil was often in vain. We sometimes discovered after the work wa done that the spot we had chosen remained mysteriously dry, while there was plenty of moisture two yards farther off; for the drainage all depends on the slopes and contours of the underlying bed of clay. And so it went. Practical experience taught me much that I did not know, for nature herself became my teacher.
We laid out two pathways to run the entire length of our garden, one leading down to the eastern coast,§ the other to the pass over our mountain and thence to Post Office Bay. The garden itself slopes gently toward the open end of the horseshoe-like enclosure of the crater rim, which greatly simplifies our irrigation problems. Around this spring are palms. The water flows from their roots in two parallel streams to enclose our vegetable plot; then the brooklets come together again, and from this point we shall eventually pipe the water into our house. By opening the ditches that run between the rows we can easily regulate the flow.
§ Presumably a typographical error, which should be the western coast; that is, from Friedo to Black Beach, as shown on Ritter's own sketch map.
In a deep recess of the crater walls we erected an enclosure for our chickens. We chose this spot because it adjoined the rocky ledge, which saved us the trouble of building a fence on that side. At first we had left the chickens roam at will, but this proved disastrous; several of them were devoured by the hungry wild dogs and cats that prowl all about us. Then, too, the chickens themselves began to show signs of running wild. Nature has given them no sense of order and organization; they seemed to delight in laying their eggs all over the place.
When our plans had taken form to this extent, it was a comparitively easy matter to plant the seeds which we had brought with us from Germany. We had been in no great hurry to get this done, because our supply of food was still ample and the native fruits had been a welcome addition to our stores. It would be several more months before we should actually have to call upon our own vegetables to help us sustain life. And in this warm climate things would grow rapidly once they got started.
In the end our garden was born with all the pains of motherhood. Just as it is the goal and purpose of all living to give life and reproduce, even so have we given new life to Friedo.
The native part of the garden contains bananas, papayas, oranges, coconuts, guavas, lemons, and pineapples, as well as a species of yam which grows very large, often finding it necessary to force its way quite out of the shallow soil, where the huge roots lie half exposed on the surface. The wild swine are particularly fond of these yams. This is one of the reasons why they break through our fence so often, and, once in, they inflict wanton damage upon our other crops.
In the cultivated section we wave planted all the common varieties of vegetables, including beans, tomatoes, cabbages, peas, beets, potatoes, radishes, cauliflowers, onions, celery, and spinach. To provide outselves with sugar we planted sugar cane. Since Dore and I are both vegetarians, we also had to see to it that we should have a sufficiency of vegetable oils and fats. The native coconut is excellent for this purpose, but for variety we also put in a crop of peanuts and planted some almonds and hazelnuts.
The first planting was a stupendous success. The warm sun and the plentiful supply of water from the spring acted in combination like some powerful magic. We could actually measure growth from day to day. Before many weeks the tomato plants had reached a height of more than six feet, so that when I walked between the rows their leaves waved above me just as if I were in a thicket of small trees. And they bore fruit in proportion, the average tomato being as large as a baby's head. Most of the other things did almost as well.
Amid the general fecundity there were only a few notable exceptions. For some reason the almonds and hazelnuts failed to germinate. We did not get a single sprout from them. The radishes, too, were a disappointment. The plants grew magnificently, but the tubers were wormy and often burst before attaining full size. On the whole, however, we had every reason to congratulate ourselves upon the success of our agriculture. We thought we could look forward to an abundance of vegetables for all time.
The second planting soon revealed the fallacy of this idea. Everything seemed to grow much less well than at first and each plant seemed loath to adapt itself to its new environment. Subsequent plantings have never equaled that first burst of vigor. It was just as if the perpetual sunshine had caused the first crop to dissipate all its strength in growing, leaving not enough vitality for the seeds; when these seeds were planted in their own turn they appeared to get off to a poor start, like sickly children. Now that we have been here eighteen months, long enough to watch several generations of our garden come and go, we begin to realize some of the difficulties in this clime.
Moreover, all our later plantings have been attended by misfortunes which our first garden miraculously escaped. These misfortunes were of three separate kinds—wind, insects, and the wild animals, chiefly the pigs and the asses. I have never been able to arrive at a wholly satisfactory explanation of our almost complete immunity from these scourges in the beginning and our perpetual trouble thereafter. The wind just bothered us once, it is true, but it did a thorough job while it was about it. It blew down most of our sugar cane and uprooted several of our banana trees. Banana trees have very short roots, which makes it impossible for the top-heavy trunks to stand up before a strong gale. Fortunately for us, the trade winds that blow over the Galapagos are gentle and even-tempered most of the time. Since we have been here they have displayed their full fury only this once, and then it was all over in a few minutes.
As for the animals, it may be that they were afraid of us at first and only gradually learned that they could break through our fence and trespass upon us with impunity. The same reasoning will not account for the strange behavior of the insects, but the fact remains that, like the animals, they left us pretty much alone in the beginning and have tormented us incessantly ever since.
The tender shoots of our second planting had hardly peeped through the ground when the insect horders descended upon them like one of the plagues of ancient Egypt. Huge black cockroaches, brilliantly colored beetles, long fuzzy caterpillars, several varieties of plant lice, and two rival armies of ants—great black ones and smaller red ones—marshaled their forces and advanced upon us in platoons and regiments. They concentrated upon our garden as a feeding ground, seeming to prefer the exotic taste of our cultivated vegetables to the monotonous diet of native plants and trees on which they had been bred.
The bugs are at their worst during the rainy season and the month that follows, when the ground is thoroughly moist. So for half the year we have to contend with these ravaging pests. Anyone familiar with the tropics will understand how we were transported from the joys of heaven to the uttermost depths of hell by such ruthless destroyers. In Northern countries the frosts serve a most beneficent purpose by killing the vermin; here nothing avails to check their overwhelming numbers. We have found it a very serious problem to combat them without chemical aids.
The best we can do is to catch the insects with our hands and burn them. It is easy enough to collect them by the bucketful, but it is an endless job. No sooner do we wipe out one army than the enemy brings up its reserves, which are inexhaustible—and it all has to be done over again. In this perpetual battle there is no such thing as victory for us; the best we can hope for is a few days' truce, which lasts barely long enough for us to recover our strength for the next encounter.
Worst of all are the insufferable ants. They cover the green leaves in such numbers that the green disappears completely beneath the black or red of their bodies. They carry with them their aphids, and start colonies of these lice, their ‘milk cattle,’ on every plant. Even the tropical banana is not immune from them. And they work quite as effectively underground as they do in the sunlight. With remarkable perverseness they soon discovered that our potato patch and our peanut hills were the best places in all the island for building their nests. Though we pour boiling water down their holes and kill them by the thousands, new settlements spring up overnight. It is a wonder that we can get anything to grow, so frequently have we been compelled in self-defense to soak the earth in scalding water.
Not at all daunted by our ceaseless warfare against them in the field, they make bold to attack us in our very house. Nothing can keep them out. They swarm all over the place, and with a sure instinct make straight for our food supplies. If they can get at our delicacies in no other way, they will chew holes in the heavy cardboard cartons in which, for lack of anything better, we have had to store a large part of our provisions. They make daring raids upon our sugar, which tempts them more than anything else. We have tried every imaginable expedient to hide it where they cannot get at it, but to no avail. When we suspend it from the rafters, they come down the cords; when we block this route by greasing the cords, they will climb up a spider's web, using it as the bridge of their desires.
At night we sometimes awake to find our bedclothes alive with them. Even the large black ants will push their way through the meshes of mosquito netting that surround us, or, if this is too much trouble, their strong jaws will clip the threads and make larger holes. Once in, they attack us savagely, and their bites are exceedingly painful. I can only shudder when I think of what would happen to us if we should become ill and too weak to resist them—by morning our bones would be picked as clean as if they had been boiled. Living so close to them, we don't waste any sympathy on them for their wonderfully organized social system. They are an inexorable enemy, and we deal with them accordingly.
Even in the garden we need a night watchman. In addition to the tireless ants there are myriads of moths and night butterflies that turn the hours of darkness into hours of destructive work. Though we see much less of them, they do almost as much damage as the other pests. With their long, sharp drills they bore into our fruit, laying eggs from which fat worms will hatch.
We have certain allies in our war agains the insects—the birds and lizards, of which there are great numbers, but not nearly enough to deplete the ranks of our common enemy. Certain of the tropical flowers have developed a poison of their own for dealing with the moths and bugs, but the domesticated plants are helpless. The struggle to keep alive is almost twoo much for them. Without our constant help in fighting their battles, they would perish in short order.
In times past, parties of sportsmen from Ecuador used occasionally to come to this island expressly to hunt the wild cattle.§ Perhaps it is for this reason that these have given us much less trouble than the other animals. The cows remain very shy, rarely coming near our enclosure except under cover of darkness. The other beasts, however, do not seem to share their fears. Our chicken yard tempts the ravenous dogs and cats, and now and then a fowl will be stolen in spite of our precautions. The dogs find it easy enough to jump the fence, and of course any fence is a broad highway to a cat.
§ See Wild Bull Shooting in the Galapagos Islands engraving in 1877 Harper's Weekly.
In dealing with all these animal intruders I am handicapped in two directions. First, ever since chilhood it has caused me intense mental anguish to kill any living creature. The fierce struggle to survive in this wilderness has enabled me to overcome these feelings to some degree, but even now I prefer to exhaust all other measures before resorting to bloodshed. Second, I have nothing but low-calibre rifles, fit only for hunting birds and other small game. When I selected this place for our experiment in natural living, I was led by all the books and authorities to believe that no large animals existed on the island; hence it seemed superfluous to bring along powerful guns. In spite of this handicap, we are not left altogther defenseless. The prowling dogs and cats made themselves such a nuisance that I had to do something about it. By persistent efforts I have succeeded in killing many of them with my rifle, inadequate as it is.
The worst offenders, however, are the asses and hogs, and upon them my weapons have no effect whatever. The asses are a mouse gray in color, gracefully built and somewhat longer in body than their domesticated type. They can climb the rocks and crags of these volcanic hills with extreme ease and sureness of foot, but in general they prefer to keep to the network of old tortoise trails that interlace over the whole island. They thrive on a diet of thorn bushes, which grow abundantly on the dry slopes where no other green thing can live. The asses travel about in family groups. During the heat of the day they usually stay in some shady place, but the setting sun is their signal to be up and doing. As they venture forth to feed and make love, they shatter the stillness of the night with their trumpet-like brayings.
Often, in an excess of animal spirits, they will start a stampede—apparently just for the fun of it. We can hear them galloping madly in droves of a dozen or more, their hoofs ringing a loud tattoo upon the stones. Then it is that they may come dashing at full speed down the mountain side to crash through our fence in the darkness. Such stupid beasts I have never seen. As often as they have repeated this manœuvre, they have never learned that the fence is there. Just the same, once they find themselves inside our garden they have sense enough to discover that there are other delicacies in the world besides thorns. The only thing I can do to save our precious work from utter ruin is to rush forth clad in a sheet, yelling to frighten them away. But they always come back—if not to-night, then to-morrow night.
The pranks of the asses are so typically asinine that we can hardly find it in our hearts to condemn them. They are our comedians—practical jokers, to be sure, but still comedians; and they have given us many a hearty laugh. Not so the swine; they are ruthless destroyers and villains at heart. I sometimes regret that I am a vegetarian; though I dislike the taste of meat, I could find a very real satisfaction of another sort in killing and eating some of this wild pork.
These Galapagos hogs are coal black, which is doubly fitting since their color matches both the lava rocks of their surroundings and their own diabolical dispositions. In their wild state they have developed formidable tusks. They carry sand flies between their cloven hoofs, and during the dry months, when we pass a place where hogs have chanced to rest, swarms of the plaguish flies fall upon our naked bodies and sting us until the blood flows. Though these wild hogs of ours may differ from their tamer brothers in some respects, they retain that characteristic smell which proclaims a hog a hog the world over. Whenever they chance to pass up the wind from us, one would think our paradise adjoined a stockyard.
The pigs squeeze through the smallest apertures of our fence and root up everything in sight. For a long time this was almost a nightly occurrence. We were often awakened by the loud smacking noises they make in eating—my cue to go forth and do battle with them. Many times I tried my rifle on them, but though I hit them often enough, as I could tell by their squeals, I never succeeded in killing me a pig.
Early one morning, just as the sun was peeping above the horizon, Dore went into the garden and was surprised to see what, in the gray shadow of the dawn, she mistook to be a calf browsing in the potato patch. But it was not a calf; it was a huge black boar, the leader of this band of swinish pirates. In a spirit of wanton destruction he had rooted up many of the plants, leaving the growing potatoes exposed on the surface. Apparently he had not been eating them; he was just having a good time.
At sight of Dore the vandal made for the hole in the fence through which he had entered, and disappeared in the woods. Night after night following this incident he repeated his visits. Sometimes I would hear him and go forth to chase him off. Then he would withdraw to a thicket where I did not dare pursue him in the dark. Grunting ominously, he behaved like a hostile dog which, driven from his dinner, only waits his opportunity to return to it. Again we would sleep through the night without being disturbed, but the destruction that met our eyes in the morning showed only too plainly that the great hog had paid us his customary visit.
It soon became evident that I should have to resort to violent measures to rid us of this unwelcome guest. I judged that if I could put him out of the way, that would be the most effective means of discouraging other members of his family as well. Again and again I tried my rifle upon the giant boar, but it was of no use. The noise sent him off in a panic, but the shots rebounded from his thick hide without hurting him. He learned that I was all bark and no bite, and with that he grew still bolder. He no longer waited for darkness, but began a series of daylight raids.
I attempted to kill him with poisoned bananas, but he must have detected the odor of the deadly concoction, for he refused to touch them. Next I made some large pear-shaped pellets of flour and oil, with which I mixed another poison, and left them overnight where he was wont to feed. The following morning some of the pills were missing. I computed that enough had been devoured to kill two hogs outright. But lo! before the day was over the brute was back again, none the worse for his new diet. Dore thought this a huge joke and improvised a song for the occasion, which she sang to the tune of an old nursery jingle. The double insult was too much; I really could n't permit it. I had to bethink myself of new plans to destroy the impudent ravager. I decided to trap him.
Accordingly I erected a figure-four trap and baited it with choice food. The device was quite ingenious. It was so arranged that when the robber entered he would not only ensnare himself, but at the same moment release a heavy log which, suspended above the bait, would deal him a crushing blow. I experimented and tried it out until it worked perfectly. Everything was now set to catch the marauder. At last we were to be rid of him. It seemed almost too good to be true. As the sun went down I placed the bait very carefully and retired to the house await results.
I awakened repeatedly during the course of the night and listened intently for the slighest noise. I strained my ears, expecting every moment to hear the drop of the log and the squeal of my victim. No sound disturbed the silence of the tropical night. At break of day I hastily went to see what had happened. The device had functioned—functioned perfectly. The trap was sprung and the log had fallen. The thing had worked while I slept. But when I looked inside there was no hog! He was n't in the snare, nor had he been crushed by the heavy timber. He had sneaked through and with devilish cunning had stolen the bait, sprung the trap without doing himself any damage, and then—brazenly, defiantly—had rooted up part of the mechanism and trampled upon it.
I was angry, chagrined. It did n't help matters when Dore repeated her taunting song, and I reflected that the boar was probably lurking in the nearby thickets waiting to repeat his tricks.
Then a new idea occurred to me. ‘I shall have to employ hellish instruments against this hellish beast,’ I said, and set about it forthwith. I still had several sticks of dynamite and three electric detonator caps left over from clearing the stumps. I resolved to blow the hog to bits. I dug a hole, buried two sticks of dynamite, imbedding a detonator in each, and adjusted my wires. At nightfall I placed some tempting food over the explosives and withdrew into a thicket to be ready when the boar appeared.
Sure enough, he came. I restrained myself until I heard him smacking away with great gusto as he devoured the bait, then I crossed the wires. Nothing happened. Again I crossed them, and a third time. Still there was no explosion. I could not understand it. The dynamite had always worked before. With a lantern I approached the spot to find out what was wrong. The bait was gone and the ground was rooted up all about the spot where it had lain. On the surface I found the dynamite—that is, what was left of it. The omnivorous hog had eaten up half on one stick!
I listened. I could hear the boar breaking through the thorn thickets as he made his escape. I felt helpless, inconsolable. I ran my fingers through my hair. I racked my brain; it was all useless. My enemy led a charmed life. I could arrive at no plan shrewd enough to outwit him. I wished that I could somehow place a detonator cap in the beast's stomach to set off the dynamite he had consumed and was now carrying in his belly, but that would be a more delicate undertaking than that of the mice who wanted to hang a bell on the cat. It was imperative to do something. The garden could n't last much longer if these raids continued.
Finally, as a last resort, I determined to fight cunning with cunning. I began to leave food for the hog during the middle of the day, and before long he was coming for it regularly. In the course of a few weeks he would even tolerate my presence, although he watched me constantly out of the corner of his evil red eyes and would never let me approach too close. After he had grown thoroughly accustomed to this routine I again buried some dynamite under his regular feeding place. This time I wanted to finish the job completely, so I planted four sticks, together with a quantity of black powder, and took great pains to see that the percussion caps were properly inserted. Over the dynamite I placed a number of stones as big as a man's fist, so that when the explosion occurred they would assist in the complete annihilation of the hog.
When all was ready, I set out the food on top of the pile and moved just far enough away to be able to see and yet be out of danger. At his usual time the boar approached without any hesitation and began to eat. Now it was daylight and I could make sure that he would not again root up the explosives before my very eyes. ‘The last meal for you, my pig,’ I muttered under my breath, ‘so you had better make the most of it.’ Then I crossed the wires.
Wham! The roar shook the earth. Thick black smoke rolled heavenward and rocks rained down everywhere. Not waiting for the smoke to clear, I ran forward to examine the results. What was that scuttling away through the thickets? It was our hog making his escape, apparently unscathed. We who had envisioned hams and sausages hanging from the trees found only a great hole in the ground, while the pungent smell of saltpeter stung our nostrils.
Truly, we concluded, this creature must be of the Devil. We are powerless to harm him. He is bewitched. To justify our impotence against him we name him Mephistopheles, King of the Devil Pigs.
The explosion, however, must have done him more damage than we first thought, for he has never returned to invade our garden again. But from time to time we have seen him in the woods. He still lives. He must have taught his family that we are more dangerous than we look, for the pigs have given us much less trouble ever since.
From this series of incidents one can see how the most insignificant trifles become for us problems of great proportions. A hunter would have dispatched the giant boar with one shot. A pioneer would have had a faithful dog to help him. An ordinary settler would have used steel traps or a pit. For us it remained a problem to tax our utmost ingenuity. We do not have a heavy gun, we have no dog or any traps, we lack the implements to dig in this hard, cement-like subsoil a pit large enough to hold Mephistopheles.
Thus it goes with us in the abandoned solitudes of this remote island. We must live by our wits, matching them constantly against new and unexpected difficulties. By this time it ought to be manifest to the reader that in describing our experiment I have not yielded to the temptation to make it seem a bed of roses. We did not expect that it would be, and we have not been disappointed. Still we are amply content. We know at last those solid satisfactions that come to man from patient, honest, self-directed toil.
We cannot find it in our hearts to pity Adam and Eve for being thrust from their Paradise of slothful ease and forced to earn their bread by the sweat of their brows. Though Genesis suggests the opposite, we suspect that they discovered before very long that they were the gainers by the change. Like us, perhaps they learned that there is another Paradise, with joys more enduring, from which one who has attained it cannot be ousted—the Paradise of contentment through work, of mental peace, of love. Truly this is the genuine lesson to be learned from that old folk story about the fall of man.
We have now been here a year and a half.§ In this warm clime, where the pulse of life beats quick and fast, the battle to survive becomes an unending state of war between man and the wilder forces of nature. Each passing day convinces us anew that there are lasting satisfactions to be derived from this natual strife, which for us has taken the place of the sordid and unnatural struggle beween man and man that marks so-called civilization. Each day provides us with some thrilling drama to save us from the blighting curse which the mechanization of life has inflicted upon the human race—the infinite border of monotony.
§ This indicates that—since they arrived in Galápagos in September, 1929—Ritter wrote these words in March, 1931.
To prove this point I shall send you a final article next month. In it I shall keep my promise to have you as our guest in Friedo for just one day, so that you may see with your own eyes how we live. I shall carry you through our new and permanent house, which is now nearing completion. And I shall invite you to laugh with us at the tricks we have had to play upon several queer people who, hearing of our experiment, have come here thinking they were conferring upon us the greatest imaginable favor by attempting to join our little settlement. None of them has stayed very long, I can assure you.
(In December: Said Eve to Adam, ‘Let's call it a day!’)
§ This installment's title is yet one more puzzlement: although it suggests that Eve (that is, Dore) is ready to abandon the project, there's not a word of that in what follows. There is, however, a clue to her plans two years later in Margret Wittmer's Floreana Adventure (p. 84):
“Then Dore Strauch announced that she was leaving Floreana, and we wondered if Ritter would too …”
This was in October 1934, but of course she did not leave before Ritter's death on—according to the accounts of Dore and Heinz Wittmer—November 21, 1934 (not November 2, as reported in the Smithsonian Institution Archives and elsewhere).
In my last article, I promised to have you as my guest for one day so that you might see for yourself just what it means to be a modern Adam and Eve. Welcome, then, to Friedo, our Garden of Peace. And may you find your hours with us as stimulating and enjoyable as we have found each day of the year and a half that we have lived here—one man and one woman alone upon a tiny island in the tropical Pacific!
This charming young lady whom you seem to be so surpised to meet in this desolate wilderness is Dore, my inseparable companion, who came out with me from Germany and has worked industriously beside me, sharing the heavy toil of subduing the jungle to make this clearing which we call home. Here is our house—just a rude shelter, as you see, but enough to serve all our present purposes. Over there our permanent abode is nearing ccompletion, each stone of it laboriously carried up from the lower ground below and placed in position by Dore and myself. We are proud of it. Before the day is done I shall take you through it and point out some of the novelties of its construction, which, I flatter myself, are quite ingenious.
Meanwhile, take a turn through the garden—a monument to our faith or foolishness, call it what you will. Each inch of that black soil we had to win by almost superhuman effort from a jealous and rebellious nature. Then, after we had won it, we had to fight to keep it; day and night we guarded the growing things against insect swarms and against marauding bands of cattle, asses, hogs, as well as lesser plagues of cats and dogs. All of these animals were once domesticated, but when they were abandoned by their owners they went native, and now they roam wild over the island in search of food. In spite of everything, however, the garden lives and supplements the native fruits to feed us abundantly.
You see that clump of palm trees over there? From beneath their roots a large spring bubbles up to supply us with drinking water and to irrigate the garden through the ditches that criss-cross between the beds. Farther on, that thicker growth of trees is our orchard. As if to compensate us for the trouble she has caused us in the cultivation of domesticated vegetables, nature has made ready to hand a bountiful reserve of native fruits—papayas, oranges, bananas, pineapples, guavas, lemons, and coconuts.
These black lava cliffs that form a wall about us on three sides will tell you plainly enough that our Friedo lies in the crater of an extinct volcano. Through the open end you can look out on the blue, unruffled sea, which washes with a scarcely audible murmor the sandy beach five hundred feet below. Beyond the crater rim, in the interior of the island, stretches a waste land of volcanic rock covered with an almost impenetrable thicket of brown thorn bushes. We live, you see, in a natural amphitheatre—fertile, luxuriant, ample for all our needs; and it also serves us an impregnable fortress against any possible intruders.
Thus, though we dwell here alone on the Island of Floreana, a mere ten-mile speck upon the bosom of the Pacific, we have no fear of molestation. Our nearest neighbors are more then one hundred miles away on the next island of the Galapagos group,§ while the mainland of South America is five times as far distant to the eastward. Here we are completely isolated from what we regard as the evils of modern society.
§ Ritter's nearest neighbors were roughly 40 miles (Isabela & Santa Cruz), and 65 miles (San Cristóbal) distant from Floreana, and mainland South America is about 675 miles to the east.
In the restlessly active world of modern civilization everyone recognizes the dynamic urges which move it from day to day and year to year along the path of so-called progress. This creative restlessness is the very essence of life, and you wonder how there can be any dynamic power to motivate the existence of two solitary beings here in the primeval quietness of the Pacific, where we are so utterly cut off from our fellow men. Must not the joys of activity be stifled in the monotony of our daily round? Must not the ‘man of culture’ become little better than an animal, finding his only satisfactions in alternating between food and sleep?
Certainly the animal instinct in man, like every other part of his nature, seeks its development, and woe to that man who would attempt an experiment such as ours if his culture, like that of so many moderns, had been wholly concerned with the external irrelevancies of life—with the mere niceties of manners and good form as society prescribes them. Here, the thin veneer of sophistication would soon be torn to shreds on these Galapagos thorns and only the animal would be left. Then the process of degeneration would continue in the direction indicated by Nietzsche: ‘The wilderness increases; woe to him who carries it in his heart.’§
§ In his Dithyrambs of Dionysus: “The desert grows, and woe to him who conceals the desert within him …”
With most men, culture is only an aptitude acquired by training, just as tameness is acquired by the beasts in a circus; in both cases the surface gloss disappears as soon as the creatures are given back to their natural surroundings. But the man of true culture has grown together with it; the two are inseperable. Wherever he may be, this deeper culture which he has made a part of his enriched personality will find some suitable expression, or he will perish with it; but he cannot put it off like a garment and sink to the level of an animal. In reality, then, there is no “back to nature” as Rousseau thought. There is only a passing through culture to the wisdom of self-knowledge.
For endurance in solitude it is indispensable that a man should be able to find pleasure in satisfying the smallest demands of everyday life. The more intellectual one's nature, the greater is the temptation to try to make one's self master of the humdrum and the disagreeable by observing a rigid time-table in their performance. But this is suicidal to the intellect. Before long such a time-table, instead of being a man's servant, becomes his master, and drives him along as inexorably as if he were a machine. The imperious requirements of his schedule leave him no time for contemplation.
We, for our part, do not try to observe a set programme. We let our actions be determined not so much by outward necessities as by the demands of duty which we feel inwardly. This gives to our life a certain mixed rhythm, in which periods of feverish physical exertion are alternated with periods of quiet reflection, reading, or conversation. I have sometimes wished that I could order my life a little more by a fixed time-table. If followed in moderation, a schedule is conducive to systematic thinking, as Kant's daily walk to his philosophy. But this I have never been able to acheive; I am not made that way. I must be content with the mixed rhythm of life which my nature seems to require. After all, it has its compensations.
For example, it is now the middle of the Galapagos winter,§ and for several days we have been kept indoors by a dust-fine, powdery rain which has transformed the landscape with its magic mantle. Mountain, forest, and sea appear like the unread objects in a dream. It is the world of a poet's fantasy. Every sharp outline becomes a shadow in the mist, every angle a curve; the whole prospect is that of a wild, exotic picture seen through the meshes of a silken veil. The rain falls noiselessly;l only the patter of heavy drops of moisture from the trees breaks the silence.
§ Apparently written in March, 1930.
Unfortunately, when the rain comes it brings hordes of mosquitoes. They attack us unmercifully during the evenings, especially in the months from February to April, and we have to make sure that the netting about our beds is carefully adjusted before we retire. We take advantage of the weather to lie abed late in the mornings and contemplate lazily the drenched and steamy out-of-doors. At the moment, Dore and I are both writing. The rainy season gives us an excellent opportunity to rest after our strenuous exertions of the preceeding months, and we seize the occasion to set down our philosophic meditations, to read our favorite books, or to pen letters to friends in Germany, trusting that some ship may eventually pass this way to pick them up.
Beside me as I write, one of our tame cats is curled up in a box, apparently feeling none the worse for having eaten four poisonous sparrows. We gave her up for lost, but she surprised us by disgorging her deadly meal and reviving again. A strong wind has just sprung up and is blowing the rain out to sea. The clouds have momentarily parted; the sun bursts forth with a golden flood; every wet leaf and blade of grass has become a sparkling jewel.
Seldom are our nights as quiet as one would expect them to be on a solitary island. If there is no other sound, there is always the soughing of the wind in the trees. Then there are the animals. These wild things of the Galapagos sleep during the hours of daylight and spend the nights feeding, fighting, and making rowdy love.
At almost any time we can hear, either close at hand or in the remote distance, the ardent braying of numerous asses or the half-anxious, half-threatening bellowing of bulls. The latter lead their cows and calves down into our valley to graze, and even if they don't break through the fence into our garden, we can hear them outside. Sometimes loud snortings or the sharp snapping of twigs and branches will proclaim a battle between two bulls. Again, the lowing of cows just beyond our door may warn us that our premises have been invaded. Only last night I awoke to see a cow grazing not ten feet from my couch. I softly arose and stole almost to her side before she saw me; then, with such agility as I should hardly have thought so clumsy a beast capable of, she galloped away and leaped over our fence, which is four feet high. More disagreeable intruders are the pigs, black as crows, of which I related a special episode in my last article.
Sometimes we are disturbed by the barking of the wild dogs. They run in packs and frequently attack the asses, which defend themselves by kicking and biting. Whenever one of the dogs lets out a sudden yelp louder than the general chorus, we know that he has received a knock-out blow from some agile hoof. The prowling cats of the island are also as noisy as cats are wont to be. One night I was summoned from my bed by the pitiable mewing of our domesticated she-cat. I found her in the topmost branch of an acacia tree, wither she had fled from the pursuit of a wild tomcat. The event proved, however, that our tabby was well able to take care of herself, and, womanlike, was merely calling for sympathy after the danger was past. At the foot of the tree lay her fiece assailant stone-dead, his throat artery slashed as neatly as if it had been cut by a knife.
When the night life of the island has ceased raging two or three hours after midnight, we hear the first impatient crowing of our domesticated cocks, and they repeat their signals at measured intervals. (Unhappily, mute cocks have not yet been bred.) Soon the voices of many birds announce the dawn, and, except in the rainy season, we arise with the sun. The temperature allows complete nakedness even at this early hour. My first business is to walk through the garden to see whether a pig has broken through, or whether the wind has blown down a banana tree, or whether the cockroaches and wood lice have been too voracious. On the way I gather ripe fruits for breakfast. Dore's first trip is to the hens, which eagerly wait to be let out and fed.
After breakfast we plan the day's work. If it happens to rain, early morning being the favorite time for showers even in the dry season, we read or write till the cloud passes. Then we toil on the further completion of our settlement—sometimes in the garden, sometimes upon the building of our permanent house.
By noon the heat becomes oppresive and all nature settles into an exhausted respite. Many of the tropical plants fold up their leaves to avoid the burning rays of the sun. The only creatures stirring are the gorgeous yellow butterflies that tumble drunkenly above the blossoms of the garden. By this time heat and hunger remind us of dinner. This is our big meal of the day, and we follow it with a siesta during which we rest, read, or sleep until about three o'clock. The hills are now beginning to throw long shadows, the day grows refreshingly cooler, and we return to our work where we had left it at noon.
When darkness comes on, our active day is ended. The sun sets blood-red into the western ocean. The night wind springs up and scatters ripples over the surface of the water. The great yellow disk of a tropical moon sheds a soft, golden light over the trembling waves. The sandy shore line becomes a silver band. We withdraw to our shelter, where, without eating again, we settle down under a large mosquito net to read or write by the light of a kerosene lantern until slumber overcomes us.
This is the ordinary routine of our daily life. Of course, it is frequently interrupted by the varying necessities of the moment. It may happen, for example, that we will read or write for two or three days running if our interest in a certain subject compels us to do so. Or again, great numbers of seed-eating birds, which we have named the Galapagos sparrows, may descend upon the garden and force us to undertake a campaign against them. My only defense in such emergencies is a shotgun, but, in spite of my 90 per cent accuracy in aim, we cannot notice any marked decrease in their numbers.
Thus life for us is one continuous battle. With it all, however, we feel that we are growing in a closely harmonized union with our surroundings. At the end of each day we have the satisfying sense that we have lived completely, with a full utilization of all our powers.
We have now practically exhausted the store of foodstuffs which we brought with us from Germany. Consquently we are subsisting wholly upon the produce of our own agriculture and the native fruits which nature has so bountifully supplied us. Occasional seamen who put in at the island for water have frequenly asked us why we do not adorn our table with steaks and chops when there are so many wild cattle and hogs in the hills about us. The answer is that Dore and I are both vegetarians. We do not eat meat, partly as a matter of principle and partly as a matter of taste. We really prefer a vegetarian diet. We have learned by experience that we feel better, both mentally and physically, when we eat no flesh.
As I have already indicated, we find that we are amply nourished on only two meals a day. We breakfast wholly on fruits. At the midday meal we distinguish a sweet food and a salt food. We prefer the first, but, since we also have need of the second, we alternate two days of sweet food with one of salt food. Our sweet food consists of two beaten eggs, raw, with bananas or other fruit and cane-sugar sap, either fresh or as syrup. Salt food is composed of several raw or cooked greens and root vegetables, with peanut butter or oil.
We have no grain at all, and I am glad we have got entirely rid of flour dabbling. When I was practising medicine in Europe I exerted myself for years to discover some satisfactory method of utilizing grain, but to no avail. With the exception, perhaps, of raw oat cakes and malted wheat gruel, all my dietary experiments with cereals proved disappointing. The reason for this failure was the obvious one that man is not a grain-eating chicken. The chronic ‘flour diseases’ with which mankind is afflicted could rapidly be eliminated if people would simply omit bread from their diet.
Fats and oils we have not yet been able to produce in Friedo as abundantly as we could wish. All nut trees require many years before they reach maturity, and the almonds and hazelnuts which we planted did not germinate. To be sure, we have native coconuts and are cultivating peanuts, but we should like more variety. Still, we can get along well enough for the present.
Albumen we get in eggs, lima beans, and peanuts, which in addition to their fats contain about 15 per cent albumen. Potatoes and yams provide us with carbohydrates. Then, too, we always have bananas, which we eat only when they are fully ripe, never in their green state. In ripe bananas a great part of the relatively indigestible starches are transformed into aromatic and easily digestible sugar.
In my last article I mentioned that we planted sugar cane very soon after our arrival in the Galapagos. We thought by this means to escape from dependence on white sugar, which has so much of its very best part removed in its manufacture. Our expectations of having some good natural sugar grew apace with the growing cane, but we were soon to learn the difficulties that are involved in its extraction. The cane fibre is exceedingly tough, and with the primitive means at our disposal we found ourselves devoting a great deal of time to getting a very small quantity of the syrup. By trial and error we attempted three different methods before we hit upon one which was reasonably successful.
We first proceeded in this fashion: we peeled the cane and then I pounded it on a rock with a heavy hammer, finally wringing out the fibres with my bare hands, much as though they were a handkerchief. In three quarters of an hour my hands were blistered, and I had only a litre of juice to show for my pains. The fibres, of course, still remained sweet with a large content of sugar which I had been unable to extract; so we boiled them for several hours and produced two more litres of juice of slighly less concentration. The three litres of sap we then boiled down for another two hours, and in the end got from them only half a litre of yellow, honeyed sap.
After this unsatisfactory attempt we tried another method. We took the whole canes and chopped them up crosswise in thin slices. These we placed in iron pots, poured water over them, and set them to boil. All our vessels were pressed into service during this experiment. My hands were thus saved, and by nighfall we had acheived about six litres of sap—just twice as much as we had obtained in the same length of time by the other method. On the whole the results were gratifying, for the sap was rather clear after straining. But this, too, had a catch in it. Overnight a sour film formed over the top of our precious extract; we had to remove it and boil the remainder again in order to save it. Neither process, then, was practicable.
Finally we concluded that we should have to employ machinery, and I succeeded in constructing a crude but relatively efficient lever press for crushing the cane. I selected a thick-forked branch of a tree and dug the long end of it into the ground so that it looked like a large letter Y lying on its side. The shorter branch I leveled into shape as a pressing block. Dore discovered that it was easy and comfortable to sit upon the free end of the branch and, by swinging to and fro upon it, press the sap out of the cane which was placed between the forks. We call this aparatus ‘Dore's sugar swing.’ By devoting all the forenoons of one month to operating it, we swung out ninety gallons of sugar sap. The net result, after it was boiled down, was about a hundredweight of thick sugar honey.
We are so well pleased with our invention that we don't wish for a more perfect press for our limited purposes. To be sure, the mystery of refining sugar from the syrup is still one of our unsolved problems, but this does n't trouble us. We can get along very nicely without sugar in granulated form. The syrup answers every purpose, and when it is mixed with various fruit juices it makes a splendid sweet drink. Thus we are able to provide all the sugar that our bodies require, and are independent of any import.
As for refined sugar, we simply do without it—and it is no hardship. The human body does n't call for it, anyhow; in fact, it is often actually harmful. Any Robinson Crusoe who has been spoiled by civilization would do well to learn from horses and asses to use his teeth, tongue, and palate to manufacture sugar whenever it is necessary. But let him beware if he attempt to obtain it by chewing the cane! Civilized man with teeth reinforced by porcelain or gold must look to his fillings; unless he is careful he may swallow his hardware instead of his sugar.
If people heare that we are not yet living in a house, not even a log cabin, but that we have camped for many months under a provisional roof of corrugated iron, they will think us very casual and gypsylike. In the climate of the Galapagos, however, a large mosquito net and a water-tight roof are almost shelter enough. Still, we are longing for a more comfortable lodging, and already it is taking form. Since I must be architect and workman at the same time, as well as gardener and general handy man about the place, I must be economical with my strength. Naturally, the construction proceeds slowly.
In planning the house in which we expect to spend the rest of our days there were many special considerations which we had to bear in mind. In the first place, we wanted to set it high enough so that we could look out at the sea. For convenience we thought it ought to be as near the centre of the garden as we could build it without allowing it to cover any of the precious garden soil. An engineering requirement of no little importance was to place the building in such a position that we could run a pipe from the spring to give us a bath and running water. Aside from these obvious and practical matters, there were other more general considerations of equal importance.
As usual when I wish to solve a problem, I asked myself, ‘What is the ideal solution?’—and then, ‘How and where must this ideal be modified to make it conform to reality?’ The most beautiful and also the most expedient ground plan for a house is undoubtedly the circle. Nature knows this. Does not every tree endeavor to round out its crown in a hemisphere? Are not our eyes, as well as our organs of touch, offended by points and corners? A circular ground plan is at the same time the most suitable from an economic point of view, because it encloses the largest area within the smallest circumference. Accordingly, the dome is the most beautiful roof; but it would be exceedingly difficult to carve a dome out of wood with my primitive tools. To erect circular walls of stone would also put too great a strain upon my ingenuity. Therefore we decided to compromise upon the form nearest approximating the ideal—an octagon for the ground plan and a pyramid for the roof.
In making the blueprints for any building a good architect never lets himself forget the sun. A house whose rooms are not harmoniously arranged to provide the best light for the varied purposes of the household is misbuilt. We agreed, therefore, that our bedroom should occupy the eastern side of the building, so that the sun might greet us with its warning to arise in the morning. The room for recreation and comfort should be in the western wing, for the setting sun announces the end of a day's work. On the shady north side we would build the kitchen, storerooms, staircase, and lavatory.
To fulfill these conditions we selected for our site what was originally the most barren spot in the valley; thus we should deprive the garden of none of its soil. To get elevation we decided to set the house on stone pillars; this would give us our much-desired view of the ocean, and we could pipe water into the basement for our bath. To give us a solid foundation we dug down to the rock at each angle of the house and sunk large lava shafts as corner stones. Upon these we piled up other blocks of stone to form the pillars and filled the space between the pillars with smaller rocks to make the walls. As mortar we employ a mixture of clay and sand. Of course it does not harden as lime mortar would, but it resists rain much better than I had expected. Moreover, when the roof goes on, it will extend out two feet or more to protect the walls from the weather.
The most tedious part of the work is in the selection of stones which will fit together. What a pleasure it would be if we only had some flat sediment rock to build with! But there is none on the island. We have only lava rock, and the earth spirits who made it show plainly that they knew nothing of Euclid's geometry. Even where it appears that they wanted to construct a straight edge on a stone it turns out curved, and all the right angles which they wanted to demonstrate are either acute or obtuse. (The only natural formations of any kind which I have found in my Galapagos quarry are a stone armchair, a couch, a few flat rocks that we shall use as plates, and two rectangular chunks that will serve as steps in our staircase.)
The refractory nature of our material is a great handicap to us, for in building the walls of a house one needs many straight edges and right angles. Here all the rocks are in whorls and curves. We must spend weary hours hewing them to some approximate shape that we can use. And the task entails risks of two kinds. First, I am not equipped with the tools of a stone mason. Second, these rocks are formed of lava which cooled unequally, and they are very tricky to work on. They are full of incalculable internal tensions. Stone splinters are continually cracking off at unexpected moments to threaten eyes and shin bones. Often after I have chiseled away for a long time the whole stone will burst and my toil goes for naught.
As soon as we had raised the walls breast high, we encountered a new obstacle. It became increasinlgy impossible to lift the rocks into position, even when we chose the smaller ones. Lacking cranes and pulleys, we had to fall back on the ancient Egyptian method used in building the pyramids. We piled up earth to make an incline to the walls, and with great effort dragged the boulders up it. In this kind of work there is constant danger that hands or feet may get crushed if we lose our grip and the stone starts sliding down the embankment. Once Dore nearly had her hand mashed in this way, and it seems a miracle that she got out of it with only three bruised fingers. On another occasion I forfeited a finger nail. Such accidents are all in the day's work; the best we can do is to take whatever precautions we can to avoid them.
Skilled masons with adequate tools could have finished the house long ago; for us it has been the labor of nearly a year, and it is still a-building. But it will not be many months now before the roof goes on and we can move in. Even if it had been possible to employ others in the construction of it, we should not have done so. Each stone that has gone into it has received the imprint of our thought and labor. We have derived a very real satisfaction from our toil—a satisfaction inferior only to that which we shall soon know when we begin to enjoy the fruit of it.
On the beach of Post Office Bay there stands a famous hogshead or barrel which is known to many a seaman who frequents these latitudes of the Pacific. It was there when we arrived and it will doubtless be there long after we have been dead and forgotten. This ordinary object represents the only distinguishing tradition of Floreana Island and has come to play quite an important rôle in our solitary lives, for it is our one link with the outside world. How or when it came there I know not, but it may possibly have been that the captain of some vessel which had run short of provisions first conceived the idea of setting the barrel on shore with a message describing his plight, so that some other ship that put in for water might see it and come to his assistance.
However this may be, the barrel is now an institution—a sort of Neptune's clearing house for messages between the ships that ply in these waters. A barque or steamer that chances to pass this way would not think of going by without sending a boat ashore to have a look-in at Floreana's barrel. Naturally, we too make use of it whenever we wish to communicate with civilization. The letters that we write to friends in Germany are left there for the next passing ship to take off, and whatever mail we receive is also deposited there for us.
Not very long after we settled here, we were surprised to discover that the barrel was yielding us a queer assortment of mail. It seemed that a newspaper in Berlin, learning from our friends that we had undertaken this experiment, published a long article about us and quoted some of the descriptive letters we had written home. Immediately we were deluged with inquiries from unknown people who were impatient to imitate our example. They begged to be allowed to join us and establish a community of ‘like-minded souls.’ Aspirations of escape are not uncommon in European society, but in all but the rarest instances the ambition to found a colony of this sort proceeds from a flabby and hysterical sentimentality.
Needless to say, we who had come so far to find a solitude in which we could meditate and live our own lives free from the distractions of social intercourse were rather appalled by the prospect of having our retreat become a haven of refuge for all the misfits of the world. Most of these appeals, therefore, I ignored completely. A few of them, written by people who seemed to be bolder spirits that the rest, called for positive action, and to these I wrote in the strongest language I could command, urging them not to follow us.
In spite of everything I could do, some of these folk have persisted in their romantic intentions, and from time to time one of them will suddenly turn up in the flesh. They come expecting to be treated like invited guests, and the only way we can deal with them is to make it clear in the beginning that we want to be alone and consider them intruders. We refuse to have anything to do with them. Fortunately for us, our little valley is circumscribed by acres of thorny hills. We are more than an hour's difficult journey from the nearest possible site for another settlement. We are able, therefore, to go about our own business indifferent to the presence of anybody else who may come to the island. Invariably the intruders find their enforced solitude unbearable, and in the end they go away, glad, no doubt, to return to civilization.
One newcomer who proved more pertinacious than any of the others finally came to me and confessed that he could not go on living the life of a hermit; it was too ‘cold and unnatural,’ particularly since we were there to keep him company if we only would. He ended by declaring that we should live closer together. To this I could only repeat what I had told him in the beginning, and send him away. We did not see him again for four weeks, and shortly thereafter he departed from out midst for good.
One day a lady from Berlin came ashore and calmly announced that she intended to live with us. Unlike all the other would-be colonists, she had no illusions about seeking solitude. She brought with her a complete menagerie consisting of four monkeys, a parrot, a dog, a rabbit, a cook, and a consumptive husband, who, she said, had been assured by a specialist that he would recover if he spent a year on Floreana. After looking over the island, the lady had concluded that the only place she could live was with us. I had to tell her frankly that she was mistaken; that that was the only place she could not live; that we could not undertake to house her zoo, and that we would not leave the valley. Finally she sailed away in the same ship that had brought her. Her darlings, the four apes, from whom she said she could not be parted for an instant, she abandoned in the wilderness of the Galapagos. Some days later one of them attacked us savagely and had to be shot; the others must have starved to death, for we have seen nothing of them.
At the moment a German private-school teacher has settled in the neighborhood. He brought with him a domesticated ass, but otherwise is quite alone. He enjoys a rather good view from his camp site, but he has no such oasis as ours. Besides, he had not prepared himself for this kind of life. He is already being galled by loneliness, and I do not doubt that he will soon go the way of the rest.
Thus we manage to preserve our independence in spite of all the attempts made against it. We never feel a want for human society, so long as we have each other, and never seek the companionship of strangers who may arrive on the scene. In any others chance to put in an appearance here—well, it may happen, but we shan't let it disturb us. The crater of our volcano is so small that there is no room left for others to appropriate. It is surrounded by such a vast extent of waste land that we are naturally insulated from any future settlement. Whatever the gods may have in store for us, we shall resolutely resist the establishment of a community of ‘like-minded souls’ in the district of our spring.
Now that we have been living on our desert island for a year and a half, you will inevitably want to know how we feel about our experiment. Do not the hardships of our new existence sometimes make us wish for the comforts of Europe? Do we not occasionally experience a longing for human society? Do we not at times regret the decision which led us to this island spot? To all such questions I can honestly answer in the negative, and this goes for Dore as well as myself. With our present mode of life we are amply content. We look forward with confidence to spending the rest of our days here in the wilderness.
I realize, of course, that anything I may say upon this point may be received with a slight lifting of the eyebrows. I was responsible for the decision which brought us here, and it would not be unreasonable for others to think that I should naturally do my best to justify the consequences. Let me, then, submit the evidence of an impartial observer. El Telégrafo, a newspaper of Guayaquil, Ecuador, interviewed a naval officer who had paid us a visit. He had no reason to look upon us with special favor; he merely answered the questions that the reporter put to him and told what he had seen. I shall translate his interview verbatim:—
We have been told, lieutenant, that a cultivated German doctor has been living a primitive life on one of the Galapagos Islands in an amazingly eccentric manner. Is this true?
Absolutely. A German couple are living as man and wife on Floreana in a very primitive fashion, distinguished from that of our early ancestors by the fact that both of them are highly educated and have moved in cultured European circles. They are living on a vegetable diet, shunning the use of meats, and they appear to thrive on it. Their thoughts are free from the prejudices of the civilized world. As for myself, I was surprised at such novelty and self-possession.
And how do this Adam and Eve procure their food?
From a small garden, hardly sufficient to guarantee their daily bread. Vegetables and fruits of every description form their meals and are prepared in natural dishes. While they eat they carry on a spirited conversation in German as though they were at a banquet. They are alwasy cheerful and in harmony. They have completely forgotten the bitter struggle between man and man which characterizes life in society.
Did you notice any weariness of mental depression?
Quite the opposite. Rejoicing manifested itself in all their gestures, contentment at the sight of their surrounding wilderness. Neither the woman nor Dr. Ritter was the least bit excited by my visit. They are happy in their natural life, void of prejudice, affectation, and sordidness. Faith which cannot be shaken animates them. They seem to possess a super-natural ability to stand the silence—that might silence which is disturbed only by living creatures such as birds, reptiles, and other wild things.
What else did you notice worth of comment?
Curiosity and a desire to see and speak with this German couple led me into the temporary dwelling where they have been living for several months. Decidedly original in its construction, it is built of brances to give it security and covered with corrugate iron plates. The interior is not al all inviting, being plain and sturdy for the necessities of life. They sleep on the floor like Adam and Eve in their earthly paradise. Dr. Ritter speaks Spanish indifferently. He told me he intends to stude nature at close range, and that he wishes to close his life in the mides of the primitive forest.
So much, then, for our peace of mind.
To make our story complete I should perhaps add a brief footnote about some of the things which we lack and with which we shall take measures to provide ourselves at the earliest opportunity. We have already ordered some garden tools and plants from Stumpp and Walter of New York, among which are two almond trees, two peach trees, two breadfruit trees, as well as some mixed seed for the chickens. To protect our clothes against cockroaches and dampness we shall have to obtain some tight-fitting chests or trunks. For our food, too, we should like to have a metal box to keep out the ants and other insects. We have been cooking on an open hearth improvised of lava stones, but it is very smoky. We soon hope to remedy this by buying a small secondhand stove with some lengths of pipe to carry off the smoke. Except for these odds and ends, we are able to take care of all our needs as they arise.
This completes our little history. Perhaps in America people will be astonished to find such mystical religiousness, and so little sensationalism, as the motives for our endeavor. It is hard to believe in natural things naturally. But it ought not to be hard to understand that whether one lives in the temperate zone, the arctic, or the tropics, paradise is not impossible of attainment. It is only a state of the soul within one's self, and it consists of love, patience, and contentment. These are truly the entrance gates of heaven; since we possess all three, we do not ask for anything more.