Hopefully, you are now convinced by the evidence in Part I, that I am not afraid of snakes. The point being, not that I am fearless and brave, but this:
I am jogging along the banks of the Danube. I turn into Danau Park, with its green grasses, large old trees, strolling couples, and a smell and feel of wild things (even though it is quite tame). It’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining. I am tired. I am glad to be almost done with a long (for me) run. Suddenly, and without any premonition that this was about to happen, I find my knees at eye level. This is quite shocking as you can imagine. In the next few milliseconds, I register absolute and utter surprise that I have leaped into the air.
Now those of you who know me, know that I cannot leap high. My kids make fun of me when we have those father and son jumping contents where my teenage son is flat palming the ceiling in his leap, and I can’t touch it with my fingertips. To get the image right about my jumping ability, imagine a four year-old jumping up and down trying to knock a balloon out of your hand. She jumps higher than I can.
Well, after the surprise of finding myself in midair, is the surprise at how high I’ve jumped. I’ve definitely got air. My feet are pulled up tight so that if I were on the ground I’d be squatting in a way that I could wrap my arms around my knees. The events that follow all happen in milliseconds, but the sequence of events is quite clear in my mind, much shorter than in the telling mind you. Next, at the apex of my jump, my head rotates left and down really fast and my eyes lock on a two-foot snake laying in the grass (or is it lying in the grass—I’m never sure) by the side of the path. My body contorts so that my legs kick out and away and I land awkwardly away from the snake. I step back and watch it go. I am calm (however I am not tempted to pick it up, having learned how dangerous a snake can be to your scent organs (as described in part I).
I think about what just happened. I never consciously saw the snake before I jumped. My consciousness was focusing the day, the surroundings and maybe how much I missed my family—being alone in Vienna as I am. But, I never saw the snake. However, my brain did. Some primitive neurology, derived from selective forces likely at work when my body’s grandmothers were late-Cretaceous shrew-like insectivores scrambling among the legs of fierce dinosaurs, picked up there was a snake in the grass. The message ‘leap now!’ was marshaled into action without consulting me. I got to find out about the snake after all the fuss was over. Me, I would not have been afraid of the snake at all (well, except for . . . you know), but my poor brain is terrified of the things.
My jump was purely instinctual, reactive, and unconscious. There was no free agency. No deliberation. Only after the fact did I learn why I was jumping. And I might add, it seems to me my brain was way overreacting. Sheesh. What a baby.
These things speak to my being a mammal, and what it means to be a mammal. I find this empowers me in some ways to know that my spirit is linked with deep time and deep processes. That my body is connected to the earth, to those stars that formed the chemicals I’m made of, like carbon and oxygen, that it is linked to those fish that swam in ancient oceans, to those odd little reptiles that became mammals, to those small statured apes who walked upright three and a half million years ago, seems very important. Vital knowledge even. In the end the Celestial Kingdom will be made from this Earth. I find it wondrous that Earth’s history is entwined in my history and that this history will continue on into the eternities. How wonderful that my spirit is linked to a body with its deep ties to this very planet that will ever be my home. There is something amazing and important about that. Evolution: Connecting us to the history of an amazing universe in which our spirits apparently need such ties to be truly happy. Amazing.