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April 29, 2000.

Stars and the Swallow-Tailed Gull
Real Audio

This is Roger Payne speaking to you from the Odyssey.

It's always surprising how the pieces of one's life come together. This afternoon I found the following excerpts from a letter I wrote to my wife, Lisa Harrow, back in 1994 when I was last here in the Galapagos. It connected vividly with something that happened tonight. Here's the excerpt:

"Yesterday evening, at sunset, after spending the whole day with sperm whales, I said farewell to the Odyssey and transferred to the Rachel III, a 78 foot ketch chartered by the group that has been filming our work. As I looked back and watched the Odyssey becoming gradually smaller in the gathering darkness she was reeling slowly across the mirror-calm sunset sea in stately, unhurried pursuit of whales, and all at once I sensed that I was looking back on my youth, when following sperm whales was a dream that fueled my waking thoughts, near mythical creatures I willed into existence as a substitute for a life that lacked the wildness I so much craved.

"When the light had gone (which happens fast on the equator) I went below decks where we were served an elegant dinner on porcelain, with silver, and linen, and wine sparkling in graceful glasses. And then, since no one in our group had much to say to each other I went back on deck, spread my sleeping pad in the port bows and lay beneath a wool blanket, revelling in the million million stars and galaxies spread over the soot-black, moonless night where not the slightest sky glow from even the smallest human settlement was visible. The full sweep and beauty of the universe is seldom visible, but I saw it last night.

"When Henry Vaughan saw it he wrote:

    "I saw eternity the other night,
    Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
    All calm as it was bright."

"The sea around the Rachel III was shining with phosphorescence - and every wave thrown off by the bow was a brilliant, green spray of fire. I suppose that a chief difference between the milky way and the wake of our boat is the speed at which the individual elements move. The phosphorescent droplets of spray appear to be hurtling along, but they might as well be fixed compared to the stars in the milky way which appear fixed but are hurtling along. Our lives are such brief sparks when seen against the life of the universe. We don't even get to see the stars move, even though they are moving at blinding speeds. We can deduce their motion during our lifetimes by careful measurements but we cannot observe it with our daily eyes."

That's all I'll say tonight. Tomorrow I'll finish the letter to Lisa and play you some sounds that I can pretty much guarantee you haven't heard before.

2000 - Roger Payne

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