“I know you’ve run away—everybody gets the urge to do that some time—but sooner or later you’ll want to go home.”
Dear reader, by now you should know that my proclivity is to ponder the more peaceful aspects of the natural world: mutualism, harmony, reciprocity. And yet, nature isn’t all tranquility—it’s also teeming with teeth and claws, creatures devouring one another. Try as we might, there’s no deliverance from devastation. It’s part of the package. And we do try to avoid it: to run away. At least I do, anyway. This week, I even found myself avoiding writing about avoidance. But before we unpack why, will you allow me to wax poetic on some of this planet’s fastest beings?
I’m certain you are familiar with who comes first on our list. Cheetahs are the world’s fastest animals that roam the land. Racing across savannah plains, these felines are able to sprint from zero to 60 miles per hour in just three seconds thanks to their elegantly elongated legs and spine. Not far behind is the fastest long distance runner: the pronghorn or American antelope. They’re capable of keeping up a speed of 35 miles per hour for several miles, and can reach sprints of up to 55 miles per hour to evade predators, due to their cushioned hooves and large lung capacity.
The Earth’s quickest creatures are those that occupy the sky. The undisputed fastest bird—and member of the animal kingdom at large—is the peregrine falcon. While diving in flight, its speed can reach a staggering 200 miles per hour. The golden eagle comes in close second at a dive speed of 150 miles per hour. Meanwhile, the white-throated needletail swift’s sharp wings and bullet-like body allow it to hit speeds of 100 miles per hour in horizontal flight. And the fastest insect can also be found in the air: the common horsefly, able to reach 90 miles per hour.
Beings that swim the seas can reach impressive speeds, too—though this is understandably more difficult to measure. The black marlin is estimated to be the fastest fish of all, capable of cruising underwater at 80 miles per hour. Supposedly, they can even leap into the air at 50 miles per hour. Sailfish aren’t far off, able to swim at 67 miles per hour thanks to their hydrodynamic shapes. Swordfish also rank high on this list, with estimates ranging between 60 and 80 miles per hour.
So, what about humans? In a literal sense, we are by no means as fast as our animal kin who make up this list (even if runner Usain Bolt did famously set an impossibly high record at 27 miles per hour). Figuratively, though, I might argue that no species is faster when it comes to escapism. And we’re aided by just about every aspect of our entertainment-obsessed culture of busyness. Whether we are running away or chasing something, we turn from one meeting, one scrolling session, one screen to the next. But what happens when there’s nowhere to run?
This was on my mind last week when smoke from more than three hundred wildfires in Canada were engulfing the east coast of the United States. I engage with this work every day, and even still, it was anxiety-inducing to have the climate crisis shrouding my life in such an unavoidable way. And it’s a massive privilege to say that; for many, it’s a constant reality. Even still, it was eerily familiar, being trapped in my apartment; it harkened back to lockdown. Only this time, outside offered little sanctuary.
As I confessed to my therapist how much I have been evading this week, she informed me that avoidance is a hallmark sign of post traumatic stress disorder. And while she was sharing that in the context of my personal history, I believe it’s relevant here. We are all, on some level, collectively traumatized by the pandemic that has barely passed. More than that, we all carry a deeper trauma: our separation from nature, all the incredible creatures we share this planet with. And as I have written before, to run from our grief is to run from our love—from home.