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Daily Daydream

Search for Birds of Paradise in Indonesia, and You’ll Find So Much More

One writer finds inspiration for her future travels by turning to the long-ago adventures of her great-grandmother.

Lesser Bird of Paradise, or Paradisaea minor, is one of the most exotic birds in Papua New Guinea.

Lesser Bird of Paradise, or Paradisaea minor, is one of the most exotic birds in Papua New Guinea.

Photographer: yusnizam/iStockphoto

In 1937, my great-grandmother, Constance Ripley, who was in her mid-60s at the time, took a weeks-long voyage by passenger ship, most likely changing vessels several times, across the globe. Her destination was, and still is, an incredibly remote place in the minds of most people: the far corner of an archipelago then known as the Dutch East Indies and now the Indonesian province of West Papua.

She eventually arrived by mail boat in the small port city of Sorong, where she would meet up with her adult son, an ornithologist collecting bird specimens and their skins for the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. There were no hotels, so my great-uncle Dillon had arranged for her to stay with the local Dutch officer in charge of the region, in his family’s complex of thatched houses. While her son conducted his work in the jungle, my great-grandmother went on day trips with her hosts to visit neighboring islands, picnicking in empty coves and hiking to remote waterfalls.