Every year at this time I throw myself into doing Christmas cards with a devotion that astounds even me. The reason why, of course, is that some of us have moved more than we ever would have imagined, or have seen so many others off, that Christmas cards, when it comes down to it, are often the last link. So I hold onto the tradition in an effort not to let people slip through the crack.
A few weeks ago I wrote about the birdhouse-like constructions of Little Free Libraries. (https://alittleelbowroom.com/2012/11/14/shrines-in-the-hood/). Then, in the midst of the Pacific Ocean on Floreana Island in the archipelago of Galapagos, I encountered an old wooden barrel with a door carved into its side and a belly full of mail, serving as a post office. Easily the earliest mailing system in the East Tropical Pacific and possibly the only free one in the world, the post office barrel is remarkably similar to Little Free Libraries in its simplicity, intent, and reliance on the kindness of strangers.
In the late 1700’s the Galapagos was a frequent stop for whalers. On an island with a landing beach of volcanic origin and sea lions lying in the sun, a British naval captain by the name of James Colvett placed the barrel and declared, “Everyone can drop off his letters, but he must also take the mail having his same destination and deliver it to its addressee.” Thus outbound ships rounding the cape dropped mail off, and returning ships delivered it.
Post Office Bay works much the same way today. As visitors we are encouraged to leave postcards and take home any that we could deliver. I sat down and read through them all except those in other languages. Over and over, people expressed their astonishment with a place nearly perfect ecologically. Yellow Warblers, Lava Herons, Great Blue Herons, Marine Iguanas, Lava Lizards ran around us while we wrote, and we were as comfortable with them as they were with us. Such was the joy people tried in every way to express in their postcards: “nothing runs away from us here!”
Galapagos illustrates an important lesson, and that is that fear can be unlearned. It was not until 1959 that Ecuador designated 97% of the Galapagos Islands’ land area a National Park. Up until then, in the days of buccaneers, pirates, convicts and colonists, there was all manner of pillage and plunder of wildlife. Now no one treads but eco-touring visitors, walking around the nests and not disturbing anything. I want to read all kinds of hopefulness in this, for wildlife, for humans, for earth.
Something tells me I will never forget, but if the postcard I addressed to myself on Post Office Bay ever shows up, I asked the carrier to “remind me how happy I am here.”