A Strongly-Marked Picture

Pedro Figari – El gaucho Candioti.

In his essay, “Circles,” Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th-century American lecturer, poet, and philosopher, wrote: “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm,” that is to say, without intense, eager, enjoyment or passion. Enthusiasm is unplanned. Indeed, one can’t plan for it. But it is an always-welcome guest in our lives. It is, I would argue, the sine qua non of exceptional performance.

Enthusiasm in the face of new experiences is a gift, a magical one. It’s not limited to childhood; we can be its beneficiary at any time in our lives. Enthusiasm imprints events so forcefully that one never forgets them. I am reading Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle and quickly noticed his contagious enthusiasm for the work he is doing. I want to share with you a few passages from the book to give you an idea of what I mean. You can find examples in every chapter of the book; below, I’ve selected excerpts from the first four.

The Beagle departed England near the end of December 1831. It crossed the Atlantic, with a few stops on the way and arrived at San Salvador Brazil at the end of February 1832. It was here, on February 29th, that Darwin had his first experience of a Brazilian forest. Here’s what he says about it.

The day has passed delightfully. Delight itself, however, is a weak term to express the feelings of a naturalist who, for the first time, has wandered by himself in a Brazilian forest. The elegance of the grasses, the novelty of the parasitical plants, the beauty of the flowers, the glossy green of the foliage, but above all the general luxuriance of the vegetation, filled me with admiration. A most paradoxical mixture of sound and silence pervades the shady parts of the wood. The noise from the insects is so loud, that it may be heard even in a vessel anchored several hundred yards from the shore; yet within the recesses of the forest a universal silence appears to reign. To a person fond of natural history, such a day as this brings with it a deeper pleasure than he can ever hope to experience again.

Charles Darwin, The Voyage Of The Beagle, Chapter 1.

In early April, the Beagle arrives at Rio de Janeiro. Darwin meets an Englishman there who is on the way to visit his estate. Darwin accompanies him. The trip, out and back, lasts over two weeks. On the return journey, the travelers spend a couple of days at Socêgo, where Darwin spends time collecting insects in the forest. He is overcome by what he sees there.

It is easy to specify the individual objects of admiration in these grand scenes; but it is not possible to give an adequate idea of the higher feelings of wonder, astonishment, and devotion, which fill and elevate the mind.

Ibid, Chapter 2.

Departing Rio in July, the Beagle continues down the eastern coast of South America. In Argentina, Darwin meets his first gauchos. He happens upon them at a pulperia, a drinking-shop, on another excursion, this one from Maldonado to Las Minas. His description of them is colorful; his admiration and respect for them are evident.

During the evening a great number of Gauchos came in to drink spirits and smoke cigars: their appearance is very striking; they are generally tall and handsome, but with a proud and dissolute expression of countenance. They frequently wear their moustaches, and long black hair curling down their backs. With their brightly coloured garments, great spurs clanking about their heels, and knives stuck as daggers (and often so used) at their waists, they look a very different race of men from what might be expected from their name of Gauchos, or simple countrymen. Their politeness is excessive; they never drink their spirits without expecting you to taste it; but whilst making their exceedingly graceful bow, they seem quite as ready, if occasion offered, to cut your throat.

Ibid, Chapter 3.

In August 1833, the ship arrived at the mouth of the Rio Negro. Darwin explores the surrounding area, carefully documenting the animals he finds there. He decides to make a land excursion north, from the Rio Negro to Bahia Blanca, and then continue north to Buenos Aires. He makes the trip in the company of an Englishman, a guide, and five gauchos. Here is his description of his first night sleeping under the stars. The gauchos, by the way, had found a cow.

We here had the four necessaries of life “en el campo,”—pasture for the horses, water (only a muddy puddle), meat and firewood. The Gauchos were in high spirits at finding all these luxuries; and we soon set to work at the poor cow. This was the first night which I passed under the open sky, with the gear of the recado for my bed. There is high enjoyment in the independence of the Gaucho life—to be able at any moment to pull up your horse, and say, “Here we will pass the night.” The deathlike stillness of the plain, the dogs keeping watch, the gipsy-group of Gauchos making their beds round the fire, have left in my mind a strongly-marked picture of this first night, which will never be forgotten.

Ibid, Chapter 4.

Darwin was having the time of his life—enjoying experiences he would never forget—to his benefit, and also, ultimately, to ours.

May you enjoy a great week, filled with enthusiasm, and may you be granted memories preserved in strongly-marked pictures.

All the best!

Author: Gershon Ben-Avraham

Gershon Ben-Avraham is an American-Israeli writer. He lives in Beersheba, Israel, on the edge of the Negev Desert. He and his wife share their lives with a gentle blue-merle long-haired collie. Ben-Avraham earned an MA in Philosophy (Aesthetics) from Temple University. His short story, “Yoineh Bodek,” (Image) received “Special Mention” in the Pushcart Prize XLlV: Best of the Small Presses 2020 Edition. Kelsay Books published his chapbook “God’s Memory” in 2021. חב"ד‎

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