I have often said to my students: Nature is not out to get you.
In fact, the truth is worse. Nature is not out to get you. It is indifferent to you.
We had been immersed in nature on this trip. Explorations of rainforests, cloud forest, páramo. Slogs through mud and mule dung. Hikes around an equatorial crater lake rich in wildflowers; on the rim of a barren, active volcano; in a windblown, horizontal-rain fantasy landscape 13,000 feet up. Swims through lava tubes long since cool.
Nearly everywhere we were and had been, someone got got, at least a little. But it was never personal. A wasp sting here, an ant bite there. Gut bacteria from a land new to North American intestinal tracts, causing trouble. Fungal trespass on skin, trying to make a new home for itself. Woolly monkeys defending their space. A storm-whipped tree fall deep in the Amazon.
We are the outsiders here. The invasives. What is already here is doing what it does.
Nature is not out to get us. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t get got.
We were arriving at the end of a long trip: more than ten weeks traveling with 34 people, in close quarters most of the time. Bret Weinstein and I, co-professors and collaborators in nearly all things in life, leading 30 undergraduates, and our two children, then 9 and 11 years old, in a field study of evolution through the many habitats of Ecuador, culminating in the Galápagos.
One fine Friday, the class had agreed to meet before dinner and once again collect our gains, intellectually speaking. We would share observations and insights, and interpret them together.
But only four of us showed up.
Later that evening, dinner long since postponed, the rest of the crew began straggling in. “There was a parade!” they told us. “In honor of Good Friday. The streets were cordoned off, and we couldn’t get through.” Here, in the most iconic evolutionary landscape on Earth, all traffic was blocked to mark the passing of the son of God.
The faith of the good people of Galápagos lives in tension with their role as stewards of hallowed evolutionary ground. On Good Friday, Darwin takes a back seat to Jesus.