The Red Queen Effect

It was six a.m. and Fox was already up lacing his sneakers. By six-o-five he was out the door and off jogging through the forest. For his son Junior, this morning ritual was an irritating habit, but Fox was his father and the young fox accepted the disturbance with due respect, rolled over and went back to sleep.

Yet even in his dreams lately, Junior heard the sound of his father’s padding feet and this irked him even more. “Dad, why are foxes always up so early?” he would ask. And Fox would mumble something about early birds catching worms. “But Dad, we’re Foxes! We don’t eat worms!”

Then his father would mutter distractedly about rabbits getting faster every year, and with no further explanation he’d be out the door, leaving Junior confused and sleepless in the half light of morning.

But for Fox himself, it was all quite a different story. Once he was out there running it seemed all he had to do was lift his feet up one at a lime and the world would just roll by right beneath him. The Earth was his treadmill and it was Fox’s private contention that if he ever stopped running, even for a day, waking at eight a.m. instead of five, that the world would have turned beneath him as he slept and he’d find himself on the far side of the globe. Time and events would have passed him by and he would awaken in Beijing, for instance.

As a youth Fox had first begun to feel the gentle rotation of the globe on its axis. It would wake him before dawn and he would just roll over and go back to sleep. But by sunrise he would be jolted awake by an imperative lurching beneath his feet. The world was moving on without him! Soon he’d be up and out and across the fields, blood pumping in his thighs and the Earth rolling steadily beneath his pacing feet.

Driven on by a primal urge to jog, Fox had become stronger, faster, and a better hunter than his father. Although rabbits also were more wily and quick than in his father’s day, bunny barbecue and rabbit stew graced his table daily.

So when night fell and Fox tucked his troubled son in under the covers, he chose to read him the same story his father had read to him when he first felt the moving Earth.

As sleep carried Junior off to his own private wonderland, he was dreamily aware of Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen reminding Alice as they ran faster and faster in search of the far end of the Looking Glass:

In this world, Alice, it takes all the running you can do, just to stay in the same place…

Early next morning Junior awoke to a gentle surging in his breast. Dad was just lacing his sneakers. Junior wiped the sleep from his eyes and as first light dawned, he felt the Earth begin to shift and roll beneath his feet. He trotted off after his father, wondering where this evolutionary arms race might end.