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Experiencing Eden, by Joyce Meyers (Delaware County/Main Line Workshop)

Some years ago my husband and I made a pact that has immeasurably enriched our lives and our marriage. We agreed to opt out of the frantic shopping that precedes each December holiday season and buy each other nothing. Instead, we plan a trip, a gift to ourselves and each other, that we enjoy for months in anticipation, for years in memory. It becomes another point of contact, another facet of the shared lens through which we view the world.

So last December we went to paradise together. It wasn't lush or luxurious. There was no room service or night life. There was lava rock, some stunted vegetation, and water everywhere, under skies of constantly shifting aspect.

And animals. Within minutes of arriving we knew they were unlike any others on the planet. Some were literally unique - species found nowhere else in the world. Sunning on a lava rock was a marine iguana, the only sea-going lizard in the world, dressed in its breeding colors of red and green and as weird-looking as any dinosaur. But that's not the only
thing that made it unique.

Watching the marine iguanas and sea lions on Espanola Island reminded me of the lion and lamb pictured in children's books - a world we all learn too soon lives only in imagination, never in the real world. Except here. Here nothing is afraid. Animals just carry on their lives - sleeping out in the open, caring for their young - with no thought of danger.

I walked up to a nursing sea lion - the tiny pup still damp from birth, its eyes barely open. I was close enough to hear the rhythm of its sucking and swallowing. Its mother shared this moment with me, asking nothing in return.

As days passed and we traveled from island to island, so many animals shared their world with us. We watched birds courting, nesting and grooming their young. They didn't fly away when we approached. We swam with sea turtles, sea lions and darting penguins. And then, when we thought we had seen it all, a blue-footed booby crashed into the water right in front of our faces, dived for a fish, and disappeared back into the air in a split second as we looked up and saw its sky-blue feet emerging from the water above us.

And the dolphins - not a few but hundreds, leaping and playing in a joyous dance while frigate birds circled above. Watching them felt like a celebration - like fireworks without the noise or smoke.

Here on the Galapagos Islands nature is at its most pristine. The animals native to this place are perfectly adapted to it and live in harmony with their environment and with each other. This is the place where Darwin discovered evolution. It is also the place where I learn how much more we need to evolve.

Note: A version of this essay appeared in travel section of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday, February 9, 2003, p. M7.