National Geographic : 1939 Jul
AT HOME ON THE OCEANS long, swept out of the water on our quarter and landed all over the boat.* A couple went down my neck; some fell through the scuttle into the cabin; scores of the slimy things plastered the sails and deck. As they dried they stuck as if glued, and they left their mark with the black ink a squid squirts into the water when pur sued by enemies. Cleaning up was half a day's job. Undoubtedly the squids had been pur sued by some predatory fish, and their mo mentum carried them through the air fif teen or twenty feet. On other occasions a few squids had come aboard, but we had never experienced anything like this. There were probably two or three hundred. There must be an unusual number of them in this part of the South Atlantic, since other small boats have had similar experiences in the same vicinity. So much has been said about Napoleon in connection with Saint Helena that most people have forgotten its previous long and notable history and fail to realize that its steep cliffs and rugged scenery need no his tory to be impressive (pages 77, 78, 81). Old batteries, some built by the British East India Company, appear in almost every view, from the beaches to High Knoll on the crest of the mountains, but the mili tary importance of the station has dwindled until twelve marines constituted the entire garrison when we were there. ASCENSION HAS GOLF '"BROWNS," NOT GREENS At dawn one morning, seven days after we left Saint Helena, an island appeared ahead. We rubbed our eyes. Was it really Ascension, or were we miraculously again among the GalApagos Islands? It was As cension all right, but if some giant had plopped it down among the Galapagos, some 5,000 miles to the westward, it would have been right at home. It is more mod ern, to be sure, for automobiles now go up the 2,500 feet to the farm on Green Moun tain as well as to Wideawake Plain. To this "plain," really a cinder-covered valley, the sooty terns, called "wide awakes," come each year to lay their eggs among the volcanic ashes. All of the birds rest facing southeast, headed directly into the wind (page 83). * See "Marauders of the Sea," by Roy Waldo Miner, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, August, 1935. On this barren island, originally listed and administered as H.M.S. Ascension, the British Navy spent much money and labor, laying out paths, cutting tunnels to connect fields on the steep sides of Green Mountain, planting and maintaining the farm on the mountain, and building concrete water catchment areas. The island's naval im portance having waned, it was turned over to the Eastern Telegraph Company, which now maintains the island as well as the cables (page 82). The only inhabitants are the staff of the cable company, some twenty-odd men and their families, and about a hundred and fifty workmen and servants who have come from Saint Helena. Here, of course, one must make one's own amusements. We were puzzled at first by large brown circles scattered over the lava back of the village. These turned out to be golf "browns," for here there is no grass to make any "greens." MOVIE-GOERS BRING THEIR OWN CHAIRS Though very isolated, the island has talkies once a week. The major expense of showing the films is borne by the cable com pany's staff, a small charge being made to the Saint Helenans. A one-eyed Saint Helenan servant registered emphatic objec tion, contending that he should pay only half price, on the ground that he could see only half as much! One week we were able to put on an extra show by lecturing about our trip and displaying our colored slides. Chairs were furnished us at the movies, but it is the custom for each person to supply his own chair. Then he has only himself to blame if he has an uncomfortable seat! A good deal of the food must, of course, be imported, but at the farm on Green Mountain a limited quantity of fresh veg etables is raised. About four hundred sheep are kept here as a reserve supply lest any of the boats be unable to land provisions. A few cows supply milk and butter, but their food must be brought all the way from South Africa. The Ascension Island housewife buys her fish by the month, paying a fixed monthly rate which entitles her to all she wants, any or every day. Although sea turtles are available, and sometimes a reserve is kept alive in the turtle ponds, they are seldom eaten, as beef and mutton are much pre ferred.