In May 2015, Lisa M. Hamilton joined an expedition to the Cape York peninsula, Australia’s northeasternmost point, reporting on the search for the wild relatives of Oryza sativa, or the plant we know as rice. This journey was more discreet than the great plant collecting expeditions of yore: there was no army of porters carrying bulky scientific equipment, no scrolls printed with royal decrees. The team traveled by truck, spoke English and ate hamburgers.
Still, Hamilton says that the trip was defined by a deep sense of departure from the usual trappings of contemporary life. That’s because inland Cape York is one of the few wild places left in the world. The tip of the peninsula lies just 100 kilometers from New Guinea, and the interior is virtually uninhabited. The collectors uncovered a bounty of the wild Oryza plants, which in time should help plant breeders adapt the world’s most important food crop to the challenges of climate change. Observing them, Hamilton discovered for herself a new relationship to the wild, and what it might mean for our domesticated lives. Read the full story at California Sunday magazine or on FERN’s web site, where you can also find our Q&A with Hamilton. The following photographs are an exclusive look inside the journey.