Sunday, February 29, 2004


Evolution just makes sense. It should be the scientific notion that we Americans clasp to our hearts as one of our basic beliefs. Apple Pie. Mom. Super Bowl Halftime Show. Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Evolution. We hold all of these truths to be self-evident...with the exception of the last one.

As a nation, we are still hesitant to truly believe in evolution. But look at the way we live. That ol' style evolution is too slow; we're trying to show Nature how evolution should really be done. How else to explain the plethora of self-improvement tomes that come out each year? The ample annual offerings of diet books, exercise books, "Mozart @ Night" cd's for your sleeptime intelligence improvement all offer additional examples of our unique need to improve on what we'd been born with. We want to give evolution a jump start; we feel we can actually evolve within our own lifetime, or maybe even 12 weeks, depending on some of the book jacket claims.

Unfortunately, it's only after a longer period of time or simply unexplainable ( least by me) incidents that evoluton is visible. Specific indications that we, as a species, are evolving? Lance Armstrong, the sailors participating in the round the world Whitbread Cup race, the Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe (he of the webbed toes), and mountain climbers. We may share the same genetic background with these people, but we are not very close to their "Uber"ness.

Want to see evolution right before your eyes? In the movie,Touching the Void, you'll follow two British mountain climbers, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, who had set their sights, in 1985, on scaling the never before ascented Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. They succeeded getting to the top. It was the descent that proved exceptional. There is Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times. In the space of the 6 days of their descent, Yates & Simpson have a lifetime of interesting times. Without gving away details, both make it to the bottom, somewhat alive. They survive; one (Simpson) to write a book of the account, the other (Yates) to endure continous doubt and accusation regarding his actions on the mountain. While both of the alpine-style climbers go through pain & suffering, it is Simpson who goes through frozen hell. His recollections, presented as intersparsed interviews between the action footage, are intense, revelatory, and so British.

At one point, when faced with a dilemna, Simpson had this monologue.
"I was stuffed. I could feel sorry for myself or I could start making decisions. They could be bad decisions. Which meant I would have to make more decisions. And those decisions could be bad as well. But at least I wouldn't be here. Stuffed. I'd be making decisions.".

Considering the dire circumstances and the darkness of the void Simpson had to deal with, his thought process and spiel on faith and God were especially surprising. Sorry, I'm not giving that away.

As you'd expect, the photography is spectacular. You'd want to see the movie in the theater, rather than wait for the DVD version. Bring a sweater; you'll be doing som heavy empathizing.

With the successful, and only one to date, conquest of Siula Grande, it would not be a stretch to have some publishing schlemiel shortly shilling "Climbing Every Peak: Management Techniques of Siula Grande" at your Border's bookstands. And maybe that would not be a bad long as the techniques advocated would have to be tested in the field. Like the field of the Peruvian Alps. There, Evolution would take its course. The management types that survive the climb would live to...manage and the others..?? Well, the dark side of evolution would take care of that part. Nothing like thinning of the ranks to insure the advancement of our species.

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