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UCLA Magazine Summer 2004
Of God and Blue-Footed Boobies
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Summer 2004
Of God and Blue-Footed Boobies
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At the Cliffs of Isabela Island
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!"

Charles Smith
Smith on the Galápagos at last

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.

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