Saturday, August 16, 2008

Observer in South America

The Sunday Scribblings prompt for this week is observations.

Observer Sterling at San Julian, Argentina

My father, Allen Sterling was hired in 1916 by the Carnegie Institution at Washington to be an "observer.” The specific thing that he was hired to observe was terrestrial magnetism of the South American continent.


As you can see by this second page of guidance (above) to “observer Sterling”, his instructions were very vague. In the next few years and three separate postings, he observed on both coasts and from the Equator to the tip of Tierra del Fuego, crossed the Andes on horseback, rafted down tributaries of the Amazon, and was the the first white man to penetrate areas of the interior of Venezuela and Brazil. Whereas he had been advised to go up tributaries of the Amazon as far as “navigation and steamboat schedules readily permit”, he did one better than that: he crossed the Andes and rafted down tributaries, thus establishing observation stations at places that would have been inaccessible by any other method.

On muleback at about 16,500 feet.

One of Daddy's tales was of riding up a narrow switchbacked trail that was one mule wide (Or was he on a horse? He used both at various mountain crossings). It was so steep and difficult that they speculated as to whether there would be any shelter where they could spend the night. Reaching the top, they found a large well-equipped hotel - with a grand piano in the lobby! Every part of it would have had to be transported up that one narrow trail.

On a raft such as the one in the picture below, he traveled with an indigenous guide with whom he communicated in bad Spanish, which neither spoke well. “He was my best friend,” my father would tell me.

Raft at Collapo, September 1917.

It was at a village along one of the tributaries of the Amazon that Daddy acquired a little spider monkey. It seemed happy at first to be traveling with its two new friends. In fact, every night it insisted on curling up on Daddy's face. Several days later there was a commotion of monkey calls (what did they sound like? I wish I knew!) and the little spider monkey responded and became very agitated, obviously wanting to join his own kind again. Daddy was tremendously lonesome for the girl he loved (eventually his wife, my mother) and sympathized. They put ashore and let the monkey leap joyously into the jungle.

All of the snapshots above were sent back by Daddy to the Carnegie Institution and are in their archives.

21 comments:

Devil Mood said...

I'm completely entranced and in awe of this story. How amazing. I truly love your stories Granny and this one is so ...I don't know, it's simply grand, it's important!

Linda Jacobs said...

What grand work he did but I love how you ended with the story of the spider monkey! Makes it all human, somehow.

Lucy said...

hi granny, i love your families stories and history. I think if you compiled them into one book, it would be a #1 seller!

linda may said...

So, Granny that is where you get your sense of adventure. What an extraordinary life your Dad must have lead. As Lucy said "Book material indeed".

Amarettogirl said...

Wow. Granny I've been offline a whole lot this summer and it gives me such great pleasure to return to these parts and read your amazing posts. Terrestrial magnetism - and spider monkeys of all things! I LOVE monkeys and for them to make even a small appearance in this fascinating and (if you're a LOSt -tv show -fan like I am) mysterious terrestrial magnetism, post made it all the better! Thank you...mine: http://amarettogirl.squarespace.com/the-written-word/

anthonynorth said...

It is so marvellous to hear of a life lived to the full. Exploration in the raw. And adding the spider monkey added that magical touch.

Goddess Diana said...

Dear Goddess Granny,

What a lovely post and lesson in history. Thank you for sharing your Dad with us. And the pictures are yummy icing to the cake. How blessed the Carnegie Institution was to have your Dad.

Wishing you,
Peace & Love, Just Because,
Goddess Diana

Beautiful Witch said...

Wow. It amazes me that some people can do so much with their lives! I wish I had lived in the times where there were waters unchartered and the great "unknown". It feels like we just know too much these days. Thanks for sharing. :)

Kamsin said...

What amazing adventures your father must have had! Thanks for sharing him with us!!

gautami tripathy said...

Very interesting and inspiring. I love your reflective posts..

Has anything changed?

rp605 said...

Such an interesting story about amazing adventures. It must be so wonderful to have these stories about your family. I am interested in history, I think it makes it all the more fascinating when you learn from the actions of your family in the past.

Marmalade Skies.

Tammie Lee said...

thank you for sharing this tale. It is wonderful. I love the photos as well!

danni said...

how very interesting to be brought so close to history as it happened - thank you!!! --- and thank you for your positive feedback - i was a little shaky putting art out there this week - it makes me feel much more vulnerable than my words do!!!

Laini Taylor said...

What a wonderful story! I love tales of exploration -- how amazing that you have that in your blood!

anno said...

Somehow I'm not surprised to learn that you have a swashbuckling adventurer in your past! This is a great story (it's going in the book you're writing, right?) -- I loved the pictures, too!

Texasblu said...

You always have something so cool to share! I love this post! :)

Greyscale Territory said...

What an amazing life of adventure your dad has led! I imagine you would have loved listening to all his stories! But, I have to admit, my favourite part of this post involves the spider monkey. Simply a beautiful moment!

Shyam said...

I agree with texasblu - every post of yours is amazing or thought-provoking! Yours is the first name I look for on Sunday Scribblings :) Your dad certainly led the most fantastic life - thanks for letting us have a glimpse of it.

Nora Bee said...

I loved reading this, and the photos too. Thank you!

Katney said...

It is amazing to learn about the incredible things our ancestors did.

Portals Unknown said...

fantastic! and you have pictures! I am fascinated!