In far southern Argentina, writer Pablo Bizón recalls a chance encounter with a woman who followed her passion for science all the way from Kent State to Patagonia.
ESTANCIA HARBERTON — I wish I could have coffee with her now and chat about Tierra del Fuego. And listen to her talk about the islands she fell in love with in her youth, when she first read The Uttermost Part of the Earth by E. Lucas Bridges.
The book recounts the adventures of Thomas Bridges, the first white man to live on the Tierra del Fuego archipelago and the founder of the Harberton Estate, some 80 kms from Ushuaia, in far southern Argentina. And it was here on that same estate, years ago, that I had a chance to meet the late Natalie Goodall, or Rae Natalie Prosser de Goodall, to give her full Argentine name.
I was very young, but I had enough sense to know that Goodall was no ordinary person, that she had one of those rare combinations of tenacity, intelligence and passion. I also remember that she gave us a copy of her book, Tierra del Fuego, in which she shared years of work devoted to studying and collecting data on the archipelago's flora and fauna.
I was very young, but I had enough sense to know that Goodall was no ordinary person.
The book included Goodall's own photographs, drawings, and maps. And it brought fame to this biologist and graduate of Kent State University, in Ohio, the U.S. state she left behind for windy Patagonia.
She stayed for passion alone, because she adored life on this island. But her work also had a big impact, attracting the attention of the National Geographic Society and other research bodies. In addition, Goodall founded the Rae Natalie Prosser Foundation, which provides grants to natural science professionals and students.
Drawn here first by the accounts of the adventures of Thomas Bridges, she ended up marrying his great-grandson, Thomas Goodall. Praised and awarded for her work, she died in 2015 on her beloved estate on the banks of the Beagle Channel.
Harberton was declared a National Historical Monument in 1999, and retains its original architecture: wooden buildings covered with corrugated sheet roofing and adorned with gardens, piers and stone terraces. It is now the property of the grandsons of Will and Lucas, the sons of Thomas Bridges. Its administrator, Thomas Goodall, is the fourth generation living with his family (the fifth and sixth generations), in the original house built in 1887.
The exterior of the museum — Photo: Liam Quinn
Natalie Goodall's famed collection of photos, fossils and bones — which fascinated me to no end when I visited Haberton as a child — has been converted into a museum: The Acatushun Museum of Southern Birds and Mammals. In it are the skeletons of more than 2,700 marine mammals and 2,300 birds. Above all, the museum showcases Goodall's 34 years of research.
For some reason, off all the things I remember from that visit years ago, what sticks out most is Goodall talking about the hours she'd spent studying birds on Punta Páramo, a desolate peninsula that extends into the ocean in northern Tierra del Fuego, almost closing off San Sebastián bay. I never saw her there. And yet it's easy to picture her: sitting and observing; jotting notes; thinking, despite the wind, which tosses papers about, and the cold, which seeps into her bones.