"Beauty confronts us with the requirement that we place ourselves among...the redeemers, the leaders in the protection of life. Once you have seen the bush on fire, you are not going to get out of the assignment unless you close your eyes to the beauty.... [You] either have to close your eyes or go back to Egypt and set the people free." - Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, "Rising to the Challenge of Our Times"

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Re: penguins

We jumped on the March of the Penguins bandwagon (or toboggan?) today. Provided me with some perspective on my swimming. Here is a creature one doesn't look at and immediately think "endurance athlete." Almost seems like a mean joke that they have to walk a couple hundred miles a year.

I wonder if our ability to artificially adapt to our environment and move faster through it with technology is ultimately more trouble than it's worth. I can imagine Celia saying "well DUH" to that speculation. However, we are such frail little furless things. If penguins could develop snowmobile technology, they would probably be dumb not to use it given their circumstances. But if the penguins could improve their survival odds to the point that there came to be too many penguins....

The weird thing about humans is we create all this adaptive technology, a lot of it for our own amusement, like the bike shoes I bought yesterday so that I can use my clipless pedals again. Yet there are sections of the globe and even the neighborhood where people are obviously not deriving much benefit from all the technology. Some of us have palatial wood and stone houses with two car garages, some of us live in 40-year-old mobile homes with bad wiring, some of us camp by the river. Some of us are driven for whatever reason to test our utmost physical limits and some of us won't get off the sofa. Both extremes are puzzling to me. The penguins' biggest advantage over us is that they know exactly what they need to do at any given time, and they do it. Maybe some penguins have a better knack with penguin life skills than others, but none of them come with snowcat treads or a motor, or a heatlamp, or Goretex.

Another penguin - human analogy comes to mind. I hear Morgan Freeman's voice intoning "Penguins are at home in the sea." The underwater shots of them appear to confirm this statement. They are transformed--they are not flightless at all!
Well, my friends, you and I and Lance Armstrong and Sheryl Crow and the people camping by the creek are all, for the duration of our lives, basically penguins waddling over solid ground, no matter how clever and beautiful our adaptations. This world, lovely though it can be, is not our ideal environment. Our discomfort prompts all manner of bizarre human adaptations.

I had these thoughts partly because one of the things about the penguin movie that got to me was the sense of passing time. The idea of huddling with an egg on top of your feet for three months, the idea of walking 70 mile stretches with a stride that can't be more than a foot or two at the most, all the humans in the audience are thinking, Damn! How can they stand the monotony? Why do we have this compulsion to create arbitrary measurements for things that don't exist? What, exactly, is a minute? Why not just have sunrise and sunset and let it go at that?

I'm probably not going to be able to resolve these matters in this blog posting, especially since Ce was hoping we could read for awhile tonight. Today all our exercise was in the form of practical transportation, using our miraculously long legs to walk to the farmers' market, the bank, the bike shop, the Co-op, and eventually the penguin movie where we fed on popcorn and Pibb. (It's not Mr. Pibb any more, it's Pibb Xtra--a superlatively androgynous carbonated beverage. Marketing adaptations.) Planning tomorrow to swim and then go for a bike ride with Ce, wearing my new bike shoes clamped into the clipless pedals. They will no doubt completely change my life for the better.

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