The Sunday Scribblings prompt for this week is observations.
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.
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.
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.