We’re excited to welcome science poetry master Leslie Bulion to the blog! Leslie shares all about the trip to the volcanic archipelago that was part of her inspiration for her stunning picture book Galápagos: Islands of Change, which explores one of the most spectacular ecosystems on Earth.
Each of my science poetry collections begins with a deep dive into…books! For GALÁPAGOS: ISLANDS OF CHANGE I read about seafloor volcanoes, castaway plants and animals arriving on inhospitable lava shores, and the winds and currents driving these equatorial Pacific islands’ seasons. Developing a wide knowledge base before I add “boots-on” experiences helps me look for ways to connect my own field observations to larger ideas and questions.
Forty years after we sat side by side in our college “History of Science” course enthralled by details of Charles Darwin’s historic voyage on the HMS Beagle, my husband Rubin Hirsch and I were able to travel together to the 5-10 million-years-young volcanic archipelago where Darwin’s observations and collections helped inspire the theory of evolution.
My Galápagos field journal is filled with sketches, conversation snippets, questions, and wonderings, like this entry about dive-fishing seabirds:
I had one answer to that journal question when I saw Galápagos penguins hunting sardines in their high-speed, underwater “flying” chase. Later, we saw them standing on the lava rock shore in “umbrella pose.” These experiences (plus more reading when I returned from our trip) inspired my penguin “rocket squadron” poem!
The mere 5–10-million-year history of these volcanic islands is quite short, geologically speaking, and humans are known to have been part of this history for fewer than 500 years. Having evolved in isolation, many Galápagos animals are not afraid of humans. Visitors to this Ecuadorian national park are required to keep a distance of 2 meters away—hard to do when a sea lion pup peers into your SCUBA mask or playfully grabs your fin!
Unlike the distance and reverence in last year’s SERENGETI: PLAINS OF GRASS (Peachtree 2022), these up-close-and-personal experiences inspired funny captions in my field journal and eventually, an infusion of humor in several poems.
Back in Connecticut, organizing my ideas about this land-and-sea, cool dry season/warm wet season book was such a challenge! I began by creating a color-coded idea board with different moveable, sticky-note categories. The remarkably integrated “webby-ness” of the Galápagos ecosystem made many of my small dark blue (sea) and dark green (land) food web squares more confusing than helpful! Some yellow (cool, dry season) and green (warm, wet season) critters ended up on the cutting room floor…sorry, short-eared owl…
After I settled on my “starring” organisms and wrote poems, informational notes, and back matter, putting the book into a reasonable order and page count was the next big challenge. With help and input from our patient Peachtree editor and art director, I shuffled and reshuffled spreads, playing a giant card game on our living room floor. Finally…success!
I am sure readers will love Becca Stadtlander’s gorgeous motion-filled oceanscapes and evocative islandscapes as much as I do. I immerse myself in each spread, returning to the Galápagos Islands through Becca’s art to continue our journey in this remarkable ecosystem.