I stand on a cliff, surveying my domain, and shielding my brow from the hot desert sun. Suddenly, I spot movement! I make a flying leap, hit the ground running, and make a mad dash for the quivering bushes! I spot my quarry, pounce— and scoop up in my hand a ferocious blue belly lizard, no less than one and a quarter inch long. I then gather myself up, affect my fake Australian accent, and exclaim to my audience: “Crikey! Ain’t she a big’n!” I make the long trek back to my house, ring the front doorbell, and prepare to show my biggest fans my most recent catch. When the door opens, even the TV crew is there: I conduct an interview, warning about the multitude of sharp teeth contained in the fingernail sized jaw of the adult blue belly. Tomorrow’s feature: salamanders! I’m six years old, and, at least in my mind, I am the great white lizard hunter, whose escapades will be the highlight of family movie night for years to come.
My obsession started with Animal Planet, and Steve Irwin. Even before I could touch the kitchen counter without jumping, I was infatuated with his show. Every day, I would rattle around the house until my mom would turn on the TV, and flip to The Crocodile Hunter. I watched in amazement and adoration as he caught crocodiles, poisonous snakes, kangaroos, koalas. I demanded to visit the zoo, to get up close to the animals that I saw on the television. By the age of nine, I had visited the San Francisco zoo, the San Diego zoo, the San Diego Wild Animal Park. I wanted to be a marine biologist. And then: I started to lose interest. It all took up residence at the back of my mind. I moved on, to things I thought to be more important. I never forgot him, but he never came to the forefront, either.
I didn’t think about Steve Irwin again until his death. I was walking back into my dormitory, and someone had written on the chalkboard: ”Steve Irwin died today.” I was stunned. How often had I watched his show? I had looked up to him, I had thought him immortal. Dead? I had watched him bitten by every animal I could conceive: snakes, lizards, small rodents… none of those could hurt him. What could? I retreated to my room, and looked. A stingray? How could that be possible? Most of the aquariums I’ve ever visited had ray tanks. I’ve touched one myself. How could Steve Irwin be killed by something that mundane? But the mechanics of his death were what I found least interesting. The amount of support that his family received, from what seemed like the whole world, was astounding.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.