In search of ponies: Born to run

By Sharna Johnson

CMI columnist

Salt shakers clutched tightly in little hands, the army of bored children would march out the back door and into the yard, eyes peeled for the target.

The mission consumed pent up energy and invariably sent children darting this way and that as salt crystals flew through the air and disappeared into the grass.

In short time, the yard was as still and quiet as Carthage, with all life forms on the run save the salting marauders — but that hope that just one bird would let its guard down long enough to get salted and captured fed the momentum sometimes for hours.

Sharna Johnson

Sharna Johnson

Us kids were convinced by the adults that if we could sprinkle salt on a bird’s tail feathers, we would be able to catch it. The problem was, no bird in its right mind was going to be salted and getting close enough was just plain impossible.

It was nothing more than a genius ploy by adults to get the kids out of their hair, outside and active — and it worked because hope springs eternal and there was always that chance that sooner or later somebody was going to salt themselves a new friend.

If just one kid had returned to the house with a bird in hand, it would have changed everything, but, protected by their propensity for flight, the birds always eluded and they always prevailed.

A fact the grown-ups knew full well.

Wild things always run, and most of the time they get away.

Sure, some predators are fast and or clever enough to turn the tables, but for every one prey animal they catch, there are a lot more that they miss making that instinct to run and not get caught a proven life saver.

But instinct gets a lot of credit, perhaps too much sometimes and the truth of the matter is, wild things don’t just run for the sake of running, or because it is hardwired involuntary programing.

They actually run because they have probable cause to do so — and when they don’t need to, they don’t.

Testing a theory held by Charles Darwin — who noticed that island animals did not flee humans and instead often interacted with people — an Indiana researcher studied almost 70 lizards of different species from around the world.

Recording the distance at which a lizard would flee when approached by a human, what William Cooper Jr. found was those which hailed from island habitats were less likely to panic and bolt and those from remote islands were even more approachable.

Needless to say, because it has the potential to backfire, island parents probably don’t pull the salt shaker hoax on their kiddos.

Island wildlife being more relaxed and less fearful might have something to do with living in paradise, which is bound to make just about anyone a little happier and sure to lend itself well to advertising campaigns.

More likely, however, it has everything to do with the absence of predators.

Even if there are a couple of predators lurking about on an island, the other inhabitants are sure to know them and their habits well enough to stay safe without developing an anxiety disorder.

On isolated islands where little changes, generation after generation of wildlife can kick back and relax in the knowledge that nothing means to harm them.

The instinct to flee, it seems, is not dictated by a genetically programmed precursor to fear, but is, rather, a consequence of reality — something it’s refreshing to know hasn’t made its way to every corner of the planet just yet.

Sharna Johnson is a writer who is always searching for ponies. You can reach her at: