Growing up, my mother constantly had to tell me not to touch things.
Don’t touch the cookie jar (too high), don’t touch the remote (too loud), don’t touch that counter (too unsanitary), don’t touch the stove (too hot), and don’t touch that mud puddle (oops, too late). In fact, I think it might’ve been easier for her to outline the things in life I was able to touch, as opposed to keeping up with my desire to stick my hands in places they didn’t belong.
Fast forward a decade or two, and I’m well into adulthood. Years of social conditioning have taught me that touching random stuff is generally frowned upon—I do it anyway.
I love poking things: buttons, soft leaves, the pristine surface of a newly opened jar of peanut butter. But my true addiction is poking animals. Fortunately for me, this isn’t usually an issue. In DC, the only animals close enough for me to poke on a daily basis are rats and pigeons (aka rats with wings). Ain’t nobody got time for that mess.
Then there’s the non-issue of pets. I’ve had pets my entire life: dogs, cats, birds, a chicken (once), and all of them were mostly OK with/didn’t hate a gentle tummy poke. (Hey, I said I’ve had pets my whole life, not that I was a particularly good or savvy pet owner.) The animals I live with right now, which include two cats and a tall, hairy man, are trained really well/trapped in a long-term Stockholm Syndrome-type situation. Both ways, it works for me.
Yup, things were going pretty well on the poking front, but then the Significant Other took me to Australia, the land of extremely poisonous, vicious, murderous and pokeable animals.
*We were there for two weeks. Now’s the time to place your bet. Exactly how many of my fingers ended up in some exotic animal’s digestive tract?
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Let’s talk about the little bundle of crazy that is a koala. God was like, “YOU GUYZ, I GOT IT! Let’s make a super chubby, fluffy, poke-licious animal, and then attach razor blades to its hands!” Koalas mauled a woman a few years ago. Not so cuddly after all! This website ends with the most important information about these herbivores: “Koala: Facts, Baby, Eat, Live, Endangered, Dangerous, Preditors” [sic].
Holding a koala is illegal in Sydney, but oh-so, deliciously legal—and encouraged—in Cairns! Note: The Cairns Tropical Zoo is closed, but you can go to Kuranda Koala Gardens, 40 min drive or bus ride from Cairns and pay to get up close and personal with one of these sleepy slashers. (Here’s the bus schedule if you don’t have a car.)
Then we have kangaroos. As a kid, my only constant exposure to kangaroos was the dope marsupial on the side of a Dunkaroos box. So, obviously, I thought of kangaroos as the coolest, friendliest of Australia’s animal offerings. That is, until we drove an hour north to Port Douglas Wildlife center to hang with actual, real-life ‘roos.
THOSE THINGS ARE BEASTS! They look like a version of the Incredible Hulk but if he’d been in prison for 10 years and hit the weights hard. Just watch this video about Roger the Kangaroo. My dearest wish in life is to poke a ‘roo and have it make the Pillsbury Dough Boy giggle. I feel like my world is incomplete without such a transformative experience. But I also value my limbs soooo I kept a respectful distance from Roger.
Poking things in Australia truly is fraught. When we got to the Great Barrier Reef and prepared for our first dive, they actually made us sign a document saying we wouldn’t poke things, pinky swear. Disappointing but ultimately fair.
For once in my life, I decided to put aside my penchant for poking (but not alliteration, apparently), and follow the rules. That is, until we slipped into the deep and a guide pointed out a giant, purple clam. The kind of clam from the Little Mermaid but bigger and more intimidating. The kind of clam that could swallow a small child, a regular-sized child and a slightly obese child—IN ONE GULP.
Thomas, our scruffy bearded guide, gestured wildly and, using underwater acrobatics, told me that I should, indeed, POKE THE CLAM. <insert starry eyed emoji here> For some reason I was more worried that he’d change his mind and less concerned about the consequences of messing with Ariel’s hefty friend. I quickly stuck my hand out. And then, just like that, I’d poked it, I’d poked a giant clam, and everything was right in my world—until its shell started to close.
Sorry, Mom, I’ll add that to the list of “don’t touch.”
*NONE! AHA! I’m typing with ALL 10 FINGERS!