So the trapped miners of Chile are soon to be rescued. Possibly by this weekend. And that, in a perverted and calloused way I admit, makes me disappointed. I wanted to toy with their lives, leave them down there in the abyss a while longer, to see who is the strongest. It’s something akin to Fantasy Football. Call it Fantasy Survival of the Fittest after Davwin’s evolutionary theory.
Would the strongest be a young, simple-minded man? Would it be an older intelligent miner? Or would it be something in between, far more complicated? I wanted to see it play out, not that I wish bad on any of the 33.
This idea of a fantasy tragedy germinated from a book I finished reading last June. It’s Charles Darwin’s “The Vogyage of the Beagle,” an account of his scientific journey around the world, 1831-1836. “Voyage” is a great read, an adventure of a young man, his study of plants, animals and geology and how it formed his later books, “The Origin of the Species” and “The Descent of Man,” books that changed our world.
So, when I first read on August 22 that the miners had been found alive in a “safe-house” more than 2,000 feet of hard rock beneath the ground, my mind shot back immediately to “Voyage.” The trapped 33 are in the San Jose gold and copper mine, about 40 miles north of Copiapo, Chile. Darwin had himself visited Copiapo in June and July of 1836 and had inspected mines to the south. So I rushed to my paperback copy of “Voyage” to see if perhaps he had indeed passed by the San Jose mine.
Darwin had come to Copiapo by horseback from Valparaiso via Coquimbo, stopping along the harsh landscape to survey the land and some of its mines . It was off the Pacific coast near Copiapo that the Beagle would pick up Darwin, and the ship would sail for Peru. At one of his mine stops south of Copiapo, Darwin ran into the amazing “Apires,” ancestors perhaps of the Trapped 33.
The apire were human beasts of burden, hauling out huge loads of ore from the depths. Average loads were 200 pounds, Darwin wrote, and some as much as 300 pounds. From page 294:
At this time the apires were bringing up the usual load twelve times in the day; that is 2400 pounds from eighty yards deep; and they were employed in the intervals in breaking and picking ore.”
Darwin found the men not only healthy but strangely cheerful.
“Their bodies are not very muscular. They rarely eat meat once a week . . . . Although with a knowledge that the labor was voluntary, it was nevertheless quite revolting to see the state at which they reach the mouth of the mine; their bodies bent forward, leaning with their arms on the steps, their legs bowed, their muscles quivering, the perspiration streaming from their faces over their breasts, their nostrils distended, the corners of their mouth forcibly drawn back and the expulsion of their breath most laborious. Each time they draw their breath, they utter an articulate cry of `ay-ay,’ which ends in a sound rising deep in the chest, but shrill like the note of a fife. After staggering to the pile of ore, they emptied the `carpacho,’ in two or three seconds recovering their breath, they wiped the sweat from their brow, and apparently quite fresh descended the mine again at a quick pace. This appears to me a wonderful instance of the amount of labor which habit . . . will enable a man to endure.”
Magnificent specimens, these apire. All I wanted to see in my fantasy was their 33 spiritual descendants put to a test down there in the depths. I suspect, given the history of miners in this inhospitable region, all of these miners would have done fine each in his own way.
Perhaps these modern-day miners were no different from the ones Darwin found in the unpleasant town of Copiapo 174 years ago.
“Every one seems bent on one object of making money, and then migrating as quickly as possible. All the inhabitants are more or less directly concerned with mines, and mines and ores are the sole subject of conversation.”
As for Darwin, he did not go north, did not visit the San Jose mine or its neighbors. Instead he hired a guide and eight mules and traveled east up into the cordillera, the Andes, to observe ancient Indian ruins like the ones in Uspallata Pass. And then he left, never to return in physical form. Yet his accepted evolutionary theories carry on, and the survival of the most fit is at the core.
Alas, I must face the inevitable. The 33 trapped miners will soon be on ground again to face a new kind of hell, that of taking their experiences below back into normal life above. I awake from my fantasy and sincerely wish the best for all the trapped miners.