Lessons with Pika (or The Sex Appeal of Raw Effort)

The world is too dangerous for anything but truth, and too small for anything but love.

-William Sloane Coffin

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius — and a lot of courage — to move in the opposite direction.

– Albert Einstein

As Bob Taylor, the legendary founder of Taylor Guitars once shared with me, the fastest way to build beautiful guitars is to build more really bad ones.

-Jonathan Fields

Back in the late 70s when my family would road trip each summer to Rocky Mountain National Park, there was a cassette tape that would come along.  It was an audio tour of Trailridge Road, the paved road that took park visitors up and over the Continental Divide, narrating points of interest along the route.  My brother, Lane and I had parts of the tape committed to memory, including bits of orchestration and jingles that accompanied the script.  A favorite was the tune that played during the pika description.  Do you know the pika?  Here’s one:

Photo Credit: Brian Crawford Photography.

Small and “so cute,” yes; but don’t be fooled!  Pikas are tough, determined members of the lagomorph (rabbit) family.   Pika FUN Facts:

Pikas are social animals living year-round in the alpine tundra (8,000-13,500 ft), a place where snowdrifts have historically buried their colonies 8 months of the year. Their furry coats cover even on the pads of their feet, which is part of the reason they’re an Indicator Species* — pikas’ bodies are beautifully insulated and they cannot tolerate the heat attributed to climate change now reaching ever-higher altitudes.  They survive winters not by hibernating but by putting up hay.  By the end of summer, an industrious pika will have accumulated nearly 30 pounds of grass or other plants – hay piles may contain up to a bushel of vegetation!  The pika maintains haypiles within its territory, moving them away from rain and stacking them methodically in their homes beneath boulders.  Mother pikas raise their young independently in these grass-lined burrows.  Perhaps you can then imagine how they choose a good mate?  He Who Collects Most Hay = Good Father Figure.


Because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the value – the sexiness, really – of Raw Effort.  Just a few weeks after I visited some VERY inspiring pika in Glacier National Park, headline news broke about Lance Armstrong’s teammates’ “doping.”  And just a few weeks after that, our nation sat through the first in a series of Presidential debacles…I mean, debates.

Troubling?  Disappointing?  What words would you use and why?

I’m not surprised Lance and his teammates used performance-enhancing drugs.  I’m disappointed.  When the individuals seeking election to represent me, to protect me, to speak on my behalf, fail to exercise the most basic tenets of clear communication and – between interrupting and being unattractively defensive or unnecessarily accusatory – also speak untruths, I’m more than troubled.  I lose any wavering trust that remained.

Like most of us, I want my heroes and heroines to win their wins honestly, with Raw Effort.  Plain and simple.

But….I don’t want to end this post here, with whines of disappointment or my loss of trust.  Instead, I want to pose a question…and I really hope you’ll comment.  Here it is:

How do we start again?  Like a meditator realizing s/he has become distracted and therefore returns to the inhale and exhale, how do we – as a culture – return to the starting point that affirms clean, honest effort?  Is it even possible? Mini-example?  I love coffee.  Knowing what I feel I can do with some caffeine in my system, I can hardly imagine a morning without it.  Can we settle ourselves enough to, as the Einstein quote above suggests, “move in the opposite direction” and return to appreciate the speed, agility, and excellence of an athlete who performs with practice, nutrition and prayer as his or her only “enhancements”?  [see Jonathan Field’s quote above]  And regarding our political leaders?  Let me be clear, I’m a huge fan of strategy, innovation, creativity…even coercion, on occasion.  And rightly, I think the pika employs these to the best of its rabbit’s brain ability.

But, there’s nothing less sexy to me than lies.  And when it’s time to choose her mate, the proof for that she-pika is in his haypile, “Are you showing me your 30 pounds or not?”

* Indicator Species – noun.  A species whose presence, absence, or relative well-being in a given environment is indicative of the health of its ecosystem as a whole.  The American Dictionary, 2009.

And for you curious ones…More on the pika:

1. http://wildlife.state.nm.us/education/wildlife_notes/documents/pika.pdf

2.Rockwell,David.  Glacier: A Natural History Guide, 2nd ed.  Falcon Guide. 2007.