Friday, June 23, 2006

Rest in Peace, Harriet.

According to the ABC, Harriet the Tortoise died last night, aged 176. Harriet originally arrived in Brisbane in the 1860’s via England, after being captured as a young tortoise in the Galapagos Islands. It has been claimed that she was one of the three Galapagos tortoises brought back to England by Charles Darwin from his famous Beagle voyage. However, genetic tests do not support this claim.

Mrs. Lemming and I were saddened to hear this news. We had both been hoping to visit Harriet the next time we were in Queensland. After all, everything else from the Beagle voyage died years ago, and any surviving objects are probably moldering away in a British museum somewhere. Our last Brisbane trip got cut short when I sprained my neck in the Gold Coast surf, so we didn’t manage to get to the zoo then.

But when a tortoise lives for well over 150 years, it is hard to develop a sense of urgency. It is easy to take her existence for granted, and assume that she’ll always be there. And now it’s too late to do anything about it.

Mind you, we’ve made this mistake before. In August 2001, I took Mrs. Lemming (still only my girlfriend way back then) to New York. It was a sweltering, muggy day, with summer haze reducing the visibility to just a few miles. Our original plan was to head up the World Trade Center after Ellis Island, but we decided to postpone the trip until she came back to the US for Christmas. “The visibility is much better in winter,” I said, “And besides, the skyscrapers aren’t going anywhere.”

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