Monday, July 27, 2009

Darwin, Day Two

Today we finished up with The Voyage of the Beagle by carefully reading a few pages from the text. Though the Galapagos looms large in the popular imagination, Darwin at the time did not really grasp what he was seeing. He didn't label the finches carefully and simply ate the valuable tortoises and threw their shells overboard. A careful scrutiny and discussion of the text was very illuminating. We also talked about the social unrest in England in the 1830s, a time I know almost nothing about (the Chartists, the Poor Laws, the Massacre of Peterloo) and its influence on Darwin. Very stimulating, though it may not sound that way.

After lunch, five of us joined Emma in a tour of the Botanical Gardens across from Magdalen College. It turns out that the gardens are now arranged in "order beds." Molecular biology and DNA evidence have helped taxonomists determine which plants go in which families with great accuracy, leaving the poor morphologists, who simply observed plants under the microscope, absolutely nowhere. About 20% of plants have been reclassified, and the beds here reflect the new order.

Emma is, of course, an enthusiastic guide, who loves the euphorbias (Oxford has a special national collection of them) and also proudly showed off the traditional herbaceous borders that the English do so well. Some samples:


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It doesn't hurt to have centuries-old walls behind the border and a medieval stone tower in the distance!

Here are Jerry behind Stu, Emma herself and Kumi under a big black pine tree.

From Jan Morris's "Oxford:"
The Oxford Botanical Garden, behind high walls opposite Magdalen, is the oldest in Great Britain: and what with its crumbled stones and shaded benches, its urns and pots and greenhouses, the Cherwell flowing sweetly beside its lawns and the goldfish who twitch in its ornamental pond--with the great tower of Magdalen serene above its gate, and the spires peering always between its foliage, there can be few better places in England for the contemplation of flowers.

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