WALKING is extraordinary to the researchers who've spent careers studying the complex human biomechanics [and I still don't understand it] and to the evolutionary scientists who have also yet to satisfy themselves why men rose upright when his ancient ancestors did not.

They describe man's first steps - the byproducts of anatomical mutations in the skull, spine and femur - as the most singular event in human history. I was constructing the book's arc and building to its assumed endpoint, walking again.

The embarrassing moments do seem to be piling up, edging towards critical mass.

On a family vacation to Martha's Vineyard this past summer there was this precarious, slip siding walk on sandy wooden treads down the side of a dune.

All eyes on the beach turned turned my way to see if I would make it in one piece. ''You came back?'' said an incredulous middle-aged stranger to me the next day.

A PARAPLEGIC friend of mine told me recently that he purposely broadened his viewpoint on the issue, using a wheelchair to get around and more efficiently do the workout and activities he loves.

The chair is no more than a transportation device, he said - sticking to the idea about wheelchairs was useful for him. He said he wasn't giving up on rehabilitation, but instead was making a practical agreement between him and his goal. He gave himself permission. That applied to me.

Yet as much as I understand my friend's wisdom - the joy that can be found in acceptance, in embracing limitations, and in exceeding or transcending the expectations that most people hold bout disabled people - I can't let go my sense of wonder and excitement at the human ability to walk.

Years ago when I first contemplated a book, I wrote to my editor to tell him excitedly about my observation that there had been 100 million views of the IMAX film ''To Fly!'' Perhaps I could expose people to an equally wondrous endeavour, ''To Walk.'' Infants and infants parents view it that way, I wrote. The injured and recovered who rise out of wheelchairs do.
But I am a hardcase. The only wheelchair I possess I saved for my mother, now 90 and wisely thinking ahead. I went home with it when I was discharged from the hospital five years ago, and eventually I stuffed it in my barn, well out of sight.

The rest of my early assistive tools - crutches, raised toilet seat, walker - are gone. The tale of them strewn rudely across my driveway in a fit of rebellion was an early signature movement in my recovery.

My best friend, Brad, the one who rushed to my address five winters ago to build my  wheelchair  ramp so I could be discharged to go home, never fails to smile at the rebellion story.

It is about right for me, he knows. I'm known for my fight. I can't help thinking what he will think when I finally take a seat.

Todd Balf is the author of 'The Last River : The Tragic Race for Shangrila.'' He has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, Harper's, Outside and other publications, and is at work on a book about his disability experience.


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