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August 27, 2016

Remember Being Human?

barefoot

There seemed to be no darkness last night at all.

It’s like that sometimes this far north. For a few special nights in the summer, especially when the sky is clear, the evening seems to last forever, and the morning dawns earlier than usual. We traverse what little is left between in sleep, so we slip through unaware of how those hours unfold.

Appreciating the rare opportunity of these special few days, I set my alarm for daybreak, eagerly anticipating a long hike on a stunning coastal trail nearby. I headed for my usual parking spot and was surprised to see it had already been claimed, no doubt by a like-minded soul.

Stepping out into that early hour was like arriving in a foreign land: everything seemed new and more wondrous than the day-to-day reality that greets us at our usual waking hour.

Are we designed to rise with the sun? If so, I wondered, what else have we forgotten?

My body, although somewhat confused by the early hour, embraced the opportunity to play. I found myself striding up the hill that leads from the car park, surprised by my own sprightliness given that I’d resisted the invitation from my alarm what seemed like only moments before. In fact, I felt great! My muscles were apparently embracing their early start, my lungs were eagerly drinking in the crisp morning air, and my senses were fully activated, picking up sights and sounds off-radar at other times.

My body remembers how it is to play without the distractions of modern life.

And I wondered, what else have we forgotten?

I followed the trail up and over the hill and was greeted by the sublimity of the firth (estuary) below. Continuing on in a blissful state for some time, I eventually stopped on a deserted stretch of beach to rest. I sat down on a large piece of driftwood that had provided respite many times before. A crow landed nearby, barely grabbing my attention, which was firmly fixed on the rhythmic dance of the water and the gentle arriving of each wave on the shore.

But as my corvid companion drew nearer my attention inevitably drifted toward her. Although I imagined that she simply fancied a chat, I knew she actually wanted food.

Unfortunately I had nothing to share, but she persisted and tentatively circled me several times just in case I’d discarded something that would qualify as breakfast.

Instinctively I found myself addressing her: ‘’Sorry, I have nothing to give you,’’ I said, half expecting a response. This one-sided conversation continued for some time. When I was ready to leave I bid her farewell and pressed on.

Engaging with other earth-bound creatures seems to come easily to us—and it feels good, enriching, enlivening—yet outside of our pets we don’t do it often. But we used to.

So I wondered, what else have we forgotten?

The route circled me back toward my car. In places, the summer growth covered the trail in long, dew-laden grass—pleasant on the eye, but wet on the shoes! By the time I reached the final stretch, the squelch from below had become an annoyance. I decided to be brave and unshackle my feet; I say brave because, in these northern parts, the temperature is seldom high enough for bare feet.

I set off tentatively, unsure of the contact of skin on ground. I noticed the stark difference in feeling when my feet encountered the shadow of a tree, the warmth of the sun, and then the shade again. I couldn’t remember when I’d last walked barefoot, but the contact made me consider both the great benefit of walking with shoes on and also the loss of that somehow comforting, tactile sensation. Are shoes, for all their utility, akin to going through life with gloves on? Or are hands and feet fundamentally different things?

For countless generations, human feet have had no barrier to the earth. My feet, accustomed to shoes as they are, remember this. They enjoyed being unshackled, and I felt like I had gained another sense, another means of connecting (literally) with the earth.

As I slowly wandered down the hill, I wondered, what else have we forgotten?

What we accept as normal in human society is constantly evolving. Many features of modernity add value to our lives, and we’re indebted to those pioneers of progress.

But perhaps each progression also comes at a price. Shoes make walking comfortable, and waking up at the same time year-round provides routine. But, as I discovered, the human animal remembers where it comes from; a special alchemy arises when we reconnect with the earth or adhere to nature’s rhythms. After all, that is what we’ve done since time immemorial, and although the comforts of modern life are pleasant, we also need the primal intimacy of our earthly, embodied reality.

If we all try it, once in a while, then we’ll never forget.

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Author: Gary Thomson

Image: Jordan Whitt/StockSnap.io

Apprentice Editor: Bretton Keating; Editor: Toby Israel

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Gary Thomson