This morning I ran what might possibly be the slowest three miles I’ve done in a long time. Along the way, I chanced to look down and see a flattened turtle on the gravel shoulder of the road.
It bugs me to see nature wasted that way. Millions of years of evolution flat as a pancake. But it happens every day. Where human activities and animals intersect, the animals often lose.
Nature itself is merciless when it comes to who survives and who doesn’t. Science tells us that 99% of all species of living things that ever existed are now extinct. What the creationists won’t admit is that it took millions and billions of years to accomplish that level of extinction. They like to compress it all down to the biblical flood.
But that doesn’t come near explaining the fact that there are still millions of species of living things that still exist on this earth. Some of them, like blind cave salamanders and the species of turtle I saw along the road had no way of crawling all the way across the North American continent, swimming several thousand miles of ocean and again crawling across desert landscapes and mountains and valleys to reach some tiny ark in the Middle East. It’s a fantasy of religious fervor and an all-out lie to make such a claim as literal truth.
But then again, some people still believe in a flat earth despite all evidence to the contrary. And I place the Flat Earth believers and creationists in the same bucket of denial. Both constitute belief systems as flat and shallow as a squashed turtle. All shell, no real guts.
It helps me a bit these days to realize that not all the dinosaurs are actually extinct. Turns out birds are basically dinosaurs that survived the weaning throes of evolution. Now, you’d think that it helps that birds can fly. But that’s no promise of survival either. Those of us who run and ride find plenty of flattened birds out there on the highway. All it takes is a fatal swoop of a bird over the road and the game of life is over for that individual. Smack.
Holding onto life
I once witnessed a young Cooper’s hawk get smacked that way on the front of a car windshield ahead of me on the road. It lay there stunned in the middle of the lane after the car that hit it passed by. Pulling over, I parked my car on the road edge and jogged out to retrieve the stunned raptor. Grasping it by the “shins,” I lifted the bird up to carry it off the road. At that moment, my eyes met those of the bird and it gathered its wits, flickered out of its stupor and stared at me with cold furty. A flare of light seemed to emanate from its eyes and the bird gave two sudden, strong flaps of its wings, and I was forced to release it.
I thought about that hawk and the flat turtle as I ran home this morning along a quiet road. My pace was more than 10:00 a mile. Slow as a turtle, you might say. For me, anyway. So slow in fact that a homely little pair of ticks proved how ignorant I was about nature’s ways.
Tick tick tick
Last week I went for a run in the grasslands of a forest preserve on a five mile run. The breeze made me want to just stand there and look at the sun. But then I felt something crawling up my leg. It was a pair of ticks that had clung to my socks somehow and were busy making their way up the bare skin of my calf. I shuddered and flicked them off. I hate ticks.
And I thought that was the end of the tick situation. But a day later while working in my office, I felt something on the back of my arm and found two ticks crawling under my shirt sleeve. Somehow they’d gone along for a ride on my clothes or my body. Then they emerged a full 24 hours and had decided sneak out from whatever crevasse they’d found. I’d even taken a shower and they survived that. But I’m thinking they plotted some other way to stick around.
I know, it’s totally gross to think about. But nature is nothing if it not persistent, particularly if it wants your blood. Beyond ticks, there are species of leeches, mosquitoes and even bats that will feed on your blood if they get a chance. And don’t tell me these things all hung out on an ark for weeks without feeding on something. If you think that’s true, you have never met a real tick. Or leech. Or mosquito. When they want blood, they will not wait around for anything.
In disgusted horror, I plucked one of those ticks from my arm and set on the edge of my computer to get a better look at it. I wanted to identify the species, and it turned out to be a common dog tick.
With furious angst I watched it flail its arms about as if to scream, “Give me your flesh!” Then I knocked it off and stabbed it clean through with the sharp end of a roller-ball pen. The tick was dead. I’d won in that round of evolutionary fury. Red in tooth and claw. I was faster on the draw and the tick lost.
All it takes sometimes to make it through the qualifying rounds of evolutionary survival is to be one step faster than your nearest rivals. As the saying goes, “I don’t have to outrun the bear. I just have to be faster than you.”
But then there’s the other saying that goes, “When you’re wrestling with a gorilla, you don’t quit when you get tired. You quit when the gorilla gets tired.” That’s a phrase popular among cyclists, particularly those in a road race, where the only thing that matters is staying on the wheel of the rider in front of you. Close as a tick, you might say.
On my best days as a runner, I’m still faster than probably 97% of the world’s population. It’s a poor test sample upon which to base the assertion, but I finished in the top 15 out of 300 or so competitors in the 5K race I raced last week. Of course, there was a time when I’d have beaten the winner of that race by more than three minutes. I was a different kind of creature back then, a type of desperately skinny animal. My body looked like a turtle that had lost its shell and was running around naked looking for another one.
But I was stayin’ alive, I’ll tell you.
I still go to the track to defy time and celebrate that feeling of stayin’ alive now and then. I may be a relative turtle some days on the roads, but there is still some zip in these legs despite their age. If someone wants to make fun of me for being slower than I used to be, that’s fine. Even flat turtles have their day in the sun.