Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Emus are still a bit scary

Do you remember when you were little and certain animals seemed very, very big and scary? Horses freaked me the hell out. Bison, too. I saw one bison my entire childhood, in a zoo, but it made a vivid impression. I will always remember its moth-eaten-looking coat; it's snorting, pawing hugeness; and my irrational conviction that I would some day find myself fronting one, without a moat and a fence between us.

Emus were right up there on my list of frightening animals. They were so much taller than me. Their necks were like furry snakes. Those giant eyelashes and great dark marbles for eyes, boring into you. The only reason the emus were actually staring was to see whether they liked the look of what you had on your sandwich, but that didn't stop me from thinking they were sizing up the best angle of attack. I most feared what they could do with those big triangular beaks.

Thank heavens I didn't know then what I know now: that it's their claws they use for defense, and those claws are strong enough to rip metal fences, and if cornered they kick with their big, three-toed feet. I guess I didn't notice the horrifying feet because I was too busy trying to keep an eye on their terrifying beaks, which always seemed to be erratically darting toward you on that serpentine neck, heading towards the above-mentioned sandwich . . . or, in one memorable case, a couple of Salada biscuits spread with margarine and Vegemite, which an emu snatched from my hands and seemed to quite enjoy. (For those who aren't familiar with this delicacy, Salada biscuits are like Saltine crackers. The best part about them was that when you stuck two of them together with Vegemite and margarine and then forcibly squished down on them with your chubby little fingers, the margarine and Vegemite would extrude out like tiny nubs of white and black spaghetti. Entertainment was much simpler before iPhones.) I'm sorry, Wikipedia, but the emu's bill is not "quite small." It's a gigantic pointy stabby implement.

When Frank found this video today of errant emus wandering the streets of western Sydney and disrupting traffic, I felt certain that as an adult, I would look at their beaks and bobbing heads and realize that my childhood perceptions were all wrong. In fact, seeing them against the suburban backdrop just highlighted how right I was to be awestruck by them. What incredible creatures they are. The way they move, the way they look so confident and inquisitive, the plumage on their backs that looks weirdly like shaggy fur, the general prehistoricness of them...which is no doubt why, as the guy in the pretty phenomenal hat in the video points out, they still don't know to look both ways before they cross the road.

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