My doctor asked me if I was getting enough exercise.
“Why, yes,” I replied. “Every other day I walk ten miles, rain or shine.”
“That is impressive,” my doctor replied. “Where do you walk?”
“I walk from the Philadelphia Museum of Art to Falls Bridge, following Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive,”
“The same walk each time?
“Yes. Every other day for the past three years.”
“That must be very boring after a while,” was my doctor’s final comment. “How do you fight the boredom? Do you listen to podcasts?”
Today was cold, raining, and windy. But it was a “walk day,” so I bundled up and headed into the blustery precipitation. As I entered my third mile, the path led away from the highway and the noise level lessened abruptly. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive is an oasis in the big city, and I was surrounded by flora and fauna.
I ruminated on my doctor’s comment and asked myself why I never got bored on this walk. This led me to reflect on the person who I consider to be the greatest scientist of all time – Charles Darwin. His proposition – evolution through natural selection – is to me absolutely central to human understanding of everything. All things living today, including Homo sapiens, exist because they acquired certain characteristics that made them slightly more likely to live long enough to reproduce. Such a simple idea, but it took millions of years for a sentient being to state it.
On further reflection, I observed to myself (since I often talk aloud when I am on my walks), humans have lived in – as opposed to been protected from – nature for 99% of the existence of the species. Our genes are still finely-tuned to living in the natural world; we have not had enough time to acquire genetic characteristics that thrive on smog, chemicals in our food, traveling at 500 miles an hour, and 12 hours of jet lag. We are designed (through natural selection, not industrial design) to live long enough to reproduce when we live in harmony with nature. Living in and with nature is part of our genetic map. Without nature, we are missing an important ingredient that makes us human.
I saw no humans on my walk today, but I was not alone. I saw two rabbits, not more than five feet from me. I stopped and spoke to them briefly. They looked at me but did not run away. Later I almost stepped on a beaver. I spoke with the beaver, who also did not run away. Still farther, at about the six-mile mark, I met a family of Canada geese – a mom, a dad, and seven goslings, still with yellow fuzz on their bodies. The dad looked at me as dads do, but after I spoke to the family, he turned away to continue his breakfast. Robins were everywhere. I could not tell if the same robins followed me on my ten-mile walk, or if it was a robin relay race, but I am sure that they were hoping for bread crumbs.
At the eight-mile mark the wind picked up and I had to bend into the force that it generated. It felt good to be challenged by the wind, which could have but did not overwhelm me. I noticed that the level of the Schuylkill River, which flows just to the east of my path, was higher than usual and I knew that the rain upstream had been heavy last night. A bird I could not identify was fishing in the boil at the base of the Fairmount Dam, and I was lucky to be watching when the bird’s efforts were successful. The spring foliage was noticeably greener and thicker than two days before. The crocuses and daffodils were long gone, but the cherry blossoms were still pink and mesmerizing.
Darwin figured it out, and mostly we have forgotten what he taught us. I realized that on my ten-mile walk I was behaving in a way that was in harmony with the successful evolutionary path that allowed humans to survive, reproduce, and pass on their genes. Podcast? Not for me. Boredom? Never. Companionship? Everywhere I looked.