Of God and Blue-Footed Boobies
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Touring the spectacular
cliffs at Isabela Island
On Genovesa Island, Chris Hunt is walking through
the frigate colony. The sand is crunching under her rubber-soled
shoes and turkey-like gobbles are coming from love-struck male frigates.
Hunt explains that her father, born on a farm in Garden Grove, Calif.,
grew up a devout Christian but later began to question his faith.
Since the death of her mother from Alzheimer's in 2001, Hunt says,
her father has become increasingly preoccupied by whether Genesis
or science tells the real story of creation.
When a UCLA Alumni Travel brochure advertising the Galápagos
trip arrived in the mail last winter, Smith, who lives with his
youngest daughter in Los Altos, Calif., called Hunt and asked if
she would accompany him. Smith had wanted to see this so-called
living laboratory of evolution for many years and it was now or
never. Hunt, 63, wasn't sure. She worried that her father would
fall and hurt himself. He bruises and bleeds easily, as the Band-Aids
on his hands attest. But the trip obviously meant a lot to her father
so Hunt asked the principal at Newark Memorial High, where she teaches,
for a week off.
That afternoon, back at the ship, Paula Tagle, the expedition
leader aboard the Polaris, takes Smith's arm to help him up the
gangway into the reception area. Genovesa Island had been a stunning
spectacle of frigate birds and red-footed boobies, sea lions and
iguanas. Smith, slightly stooped but still over 6 feet tall, steadies
himself, then spreads his arms wide, his face breaking into a huge
grin: "That was the best day ever!"
Smith on the Galápagos
Yet, Smith still is wrestling with the issues that have consumed
him and brought him to this faraway string of equatorial islands.
At the end of the week, we are sitting in the boarding area at the
airport in Guayaquil, Ecuador's largest city, waiting for our flight
to Miami. Smith is struggling to be heard over the Spanish-language
boarding announcements. He came to the Galápagos to find
answers but he is leaving just as torn between his Christian faith
and evolution as he was when he arrived.
"The miracles of Jesus — I do believe they happened,"
he says, clearing his throat. "But evolution — how can
you see what we've seen here and not believe it?"
Years ago, Smith made a list of things he wanted to do in his
life. He wanted to learn to fly, to farm, to work for the Foreign
Service. He has done all those things. Visiting the Galápagos
was the last thing on his list. Now, he says, he's taking it one
day at a time.
Anne Burke is a senior writer
for UCLA Magazine.