I was sucked in because #5 on their list happens to be my beloved kakapo. They mention its lack of a 'fight or flight' response, although they fail to cite its propensity for gleefully skirt-chasing random zoologists and their cranial anatomy.
(I still haven't been able to get in any wet-work on my Last Chance to See project- the temperatures seems to be taking a nose dive into the single digits every time I've got a couple days to work. I really need to insulate and heat my studio space).
It’s a pretty funny article… but there’s always a snarky superiority in write-ups like this that gets under my skin. For one thing, it’s easy to forget how utterly odd and superficially dysfunctional human beings are.
Forget the fact that we have mediocre eyesight, an abysmal sense of smell, and the auditory sensitivity of a turnip. There doesn’t seem to be a single environment- terrestrial, arboreal, aquatic- where we move with any fluidity or grace (ignoring the bar-stool, recliner and golf cart, of course).
Born to Run is one of the most joyful, paradigm-shifting works of non-fiction I’ve read in ages. On the surface, it’s one man’s exploration of the global ‘natural born running’ community. Along the way, however, the author touches on…
- An indigenous people- the Tarahumara- who subsist in remote, desiccated Mexico (Copper Canyon) and appear to be the best long distance runners on the face of the planet.
- The reasons why cushioned running shoes are not only useless for running, but actually promote injury in runners. 50+ years of global marketing and billions of dollars in sales based on a lie.
- The weird, unlikely histories of long distance runners across recent history.
It’s McDougall’s commentary on human evolution that really fascinated me, however.
I won’t break down the argument in too much detail- read the book. However, there are some wonderful sidelines the book explores in the process of making its case. Just a few examples…
- There are still indigenous societies in the world that will pursue and kill fleet mammals like antelope over a 20-40 mile chase. The Kalahari bushmen are one example. The human biomechanical design appears to be optimal for this.
- The average duration- in miles- of such a hunt equates almost perfectly to the distance of a modern marathon.
- The end of the last Ice Age coincided with an explosive increase in availability of mid-size, fleet footed game. Coincidentally, this was the approximate epoch where Homo sapiens outcompeted Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthal man) for good.
Note- Neanderthals probably had a cranial capacity that equaled or exceeded ours, as well as superior physical prowess on most counts. There are various theories as to why we out-competed our evolutionary cousins, but we certainly didn’t outstrip them because we were 'smarter' or stronger. In fact- there's a real possibility that we won the evolutionary lottery because we were able to run down elands on the open Savannah.
It makes me think about how little we understand the role that other organisms play in the ecological web. How little we comprehend the eons of natural selection, cataclysm, competition and niche adaptation that have produced a kakapo or spotted hyena.
Not saying that I want to lay a 36-inch egg, mind you…