Chameleon Chapter 12 - I feed kangaroos and feared for my life.
After Sara flew back to Colorado, I headed from Sydney to Melbourne to stay with Mary’s sister Katie. Katie and I had never spent much time together leading up to my visit, but when I told Mary I would be in Australia, she said that Katie loves to host and would love to see me. And Mary was right of course. Katie and her husband Justin live right on the beach outside of Melbourne in a house they bought auction-style, which is apparently the way things are done in OZ. They have a funky group of friends who are all part of a kiteboarding club they created called the Melbourne Kiteboarding Hookup (MKH). These letters also happen to be the initials of Elisa’s boyfriend Martin, who I met in Copenhagen later in my trip, who was briefly stunned by my I LOVE MKH sticker on my water bottle. Katie and I hit it off immediately. When I arrived in Melbourne, I went immediately to meet her in her grad school art classroom at the University campus. After more than 15 years as a successful hair stylist working in multiple cities and multiple countries, Katie is back in school to become an art teacher.
Although we hadn’t ever spent much time together, Katie is a Walsh – a member of the family that brought me Mary, my college roommate and one of my favorite people on earth. I heard so many stories over the years from Mary, I felt like I knew everyone in the family very well even though some of them I only met at her wedding in 2015. While they are all very different, the Walsh family members have some of the same underlying personality traits that I find very comforting. One of these is that they are excellent, hyperbolic storytellers – something that I love and can relate to. Being with Katie felt enough like being with Mary to put me in my comfort zone. I slipped right back into my college habits learned from sharing a room with Mary for 3 ½ years – I was finding things that Katie had misplaced even seconds before, I was helping with directions (it’s uncanny how similar the Walsh sisters drive), but most importantly I was really enjoying her company. The first day I walked the beach with Katie looking for white feathers for an art project she was making of her womb in a prison-like structure that was also a necklace – as Katie described it – “Dark, but it’s a reflection of the pressure I’m getting from my mother-in-law about getting pregnant.” I was SO good at finding the feathers. As Katie and I chatted, I was constantly keeping my eyes peeled on the beach and after 15 minutes I found 12 feathers to Katie’s one. She was so impressed. This was the start of our joke that I would be an excellent assistant for her. I helped her the next day to get all of her kiteboarding gear organized and helped launch Justin’s kite for him the day after and generally helped them both to find misplaced items around the house as they yelled to each other. I even served as a mediator during an inconsequential debate. It got so by the time I was leaving, both Katie and Justin jokingly agreed I was the missing link in their new family as most of their quarrels involved misplaced items. With me around, they could find things easier!
Now back to the kangaroos. One of my favorite things about my time in Australia was getting to feed kangaroos at a wildlife sanctuary. I’m generally averse to anything that sounds like a zoo, but in this case, as in many others during these past few months, I was along for the ride and I don’t regret it. The sanctuary had many animals, including wallabies, dingoes, and snakes. Kangaroos were the highlight because you could feed them in their sizeable enclosure where they roamed relatively freely. These kangaroos were smaller than their wild counterparts and very used to humans. It was amazing being so close to them, but for reasons that I can only imagine have to do with Australians wanted to make sure you always feel like you are at least slightly in danger - they were not alone in the enclosure. The kangaroos shared their space with a flock of emus - yes, I’m talking about the giant, aggressive, flightless birds. As we collected our bags of grain, the woman warned us: “Don’t show the bag to the emus, they will snatch the whole thing.”
I had more questions.
What did the emus think we were doing in the enclosure? How dangerous are they? Will they approach you independently? What am I getting myself into?
Of course, I didn’t ask any of those questions. And I’m glad she didn’t adequately describe just how terrifying the emus were because I’m not sure I would have entered. These insanely large birds would follow close behind you with their heads moving back and forth menacingly and their beady eyes staring into your soul. I was legitimately terrified, but trying to keep cool because the ‘roos were so adorable and fascinating to see and this was apparently the price I needed to pay. To make matters worse (for me) Katie was egging the emus on by throwing a little grain on the ground and getting the pack to follow her around. This is the same woman that told me she found hiking in New Zealand kind of boring because there was no wildlife that could kill you… I, on the other hand, was avoiding direct eye contact at all costs and trying to make myself invisible to emus while simultaneous approachable and non-threatening to the kangaroos. It was intense. What a combination of emotions!
I have no regrets about this experience despite the emus, besides how late we discovered that there was one side of the pond within the enclosure was somehow off-limits to the emus in a strange, animal territory way that provides no signs or indications available to humans. So the last 10 minutes of our time spent there was being surrounded by just kangaroos laying around and looking cute.
When my bag of grain was finally finished, I felt a combination of extreme relief and disappointment – I had nothing more the emus wanted – but I also had nothing left to offer the kangaroos to get them to hang out with me.