I’ve seen a fair amount of animals in my life and up there as one of the most odd and interesting is the ostrich. For a bird, their eyes are unnervingly large, and although they have a duck-like beak their heads are more furry than feathery. Put all of that on top of a long snaky neck, and it’s already hard to look away. Their big, bustled bottoms perch precariously upon long, bony legs whose knees, or what look like knees, bend backward. And finally, the pièce de résistance, is their prehistoric feet. I’m convinced that they’re feet are one third dromedary, one third E.T., and another third velociraptor claw. The fact that people would want a bag made out of such feet completely boggles my mind.
Now I know all of this sounds a little bit scary, but when you see an ostrich for the first time, I challenge you not to giggle… right after your jaws comes back from wherever it landed on the floor.
My first sighting took place in the spring of 2004, and I can confirm that ostrich are indeed flightless, and they are indeed fast.
I was in South Africa visiting a friend named Joanna, who was on spring break from her semester abroad. We started in Capetown, rented a car, crashed it, cried, and then rented another, before winding our way through a small section of the infamous Garden Route. We went wine tasting in Stellenbosch, and slurped back fresh oysters in Mossel Bay. We went horseback riding and galloped with a few handsome Dutchmen along Africa’s southern most, beaches. We combined champagne cruises with penguin spotting. We gnawed on biltong and chewed the fat with an elderly couple, and although they’d never moved and never travelled, we were quickly convinced they’d seen more of the world than we could have ever imagined. They gave us a tour and a bed in their shack, a wee wooden house built in a township above a city named Knysna. We also took a bumpy boat ride followed by a group purge, stolen straight from the Stand By Me script, that made our trip to Robben Island even more difficult and uncomfortable than it normally is.
But out of all the adventure, it was the birds I remember the most. The ostrich.
You see, to travel is to say yes, and although I’d traveled before, and said yes to lots of adventures before, it was Joanna who taught me to say, “YES!” It was Joanna who taught me the “unabashed, there’s nothing I would rather do it, at it, try it, speak it taste it, live it” yes. So that day at that ostrich farm when the tour guide turned to us and asked, “Would you like to ride the ostrich?” I looked to Joanna and watched, as her big brown eyes got bigger. A smile instantly spread across her face, one so big that her dimples nearly disappeared. And without uttering a word, she said, “Are you freaking kidding me! We can ride that thing? YES! Emphatically. Without a doubt, Y.E.S!”
So we rode ostrich. We sat on their pillowy bottoms as they ran like the wind.
As we get older new experiences becomes less and less likely. Our age strips us of our childlike wonder because chances are we’ve been there already, done that already, and seen that before. And if we haven’t, chances are that we’ve been, done or seen something similar. If you’ve ridden on a plane, chances are you can guess how a puddle jumper feels. If you’ve tasted Thai curry, chances are, you won’t be shocked when your lips hit a variety that’s Indian in nature. We loose the shock and delight that comes with brand spanking new.
But here’s the thing, the more you travel, the more likely you are to be shocked and delighted, especially if you take Joanna’s advice and scream, “Yes, throw me in coach!” at the top of your lungs. So, go on, be shocked by birds that bury their heads in the ground and lay eggs strong enough you can stand on. Travel and shout, “Yes!” Live and shout, “Yes!”
Yes, I would like to meet the local shaman.
Yes, absolutely I’ll try a bite of that giant snail.
Yes, I do want that promotion.
Yes, I would like to sit at the shore of an ocean I’ve never laid eyes on just so I can listen to the rhythm it drums.
Yes, I will ride that ostrich.
To rare birds, like Joanna. May you travel through life with the doors of your heart blown wide open, saying yes from the core of your being.
P.S. Turns out that almost exactly eight years later, Joanna said yes yet again, and now she’s married…to my big brother.