Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Day I Fought the Ostrich

by Pa Rock

I recently heard a portion of a "Ted Talk" on National Public Radio in which the speaker was discussing the fact that everything we put onto the internet is one more piece in the ultimate composite of who we are - or, more accurately, who we were during our brief time on earth.  Eventually someone who wants to know about each of us will be able to pull up that composite and have a fairly accurate representation - our blog posts, tweets, responses to things other people have posted, Facebook items, reviews posted to Amazon - you name it.  We are creating our virtual selves.

As someone who has spent much time trying to sift family history from dusty old letters and records, I know that the further back one digs, the scarcer are documents relating to our ancestors' past.   But now, thanks to all the garbage that we've flung onto the internet, we are leaving an enormous amount of personal history for others to sift through.  Fifty generations from now people will have to do no more than just press a button to draw up shockingly complete family histories - at least back through this generation - with all the juicy stuff that some might prefer not be passed along.

While dealing with that mindset, I began thinking about trivia from my life that might not yet be included in my internet story - tidbits that I would like to have preserved.  One item that came to mind was the story of the day that I fought the ostrich.

When I had my last little farm, three-and-a-half acres on a hilltop in the pines just outside of Noel, Missouri, it gradually evolved into a petting zoo - sort of like what the current Rock's Roost is doing now.  I had several small goats, a few domestic rabbits, a dozen or more hens and a few roosters, two wonderful farm dogs, a goose, a Tom turkey, two peacocks and two peahens, and four emus.  One day while working with some foster children clients near Nevada, Missouri, I came across a lady who was raising ostriches.  Long story short, her birds were reasonably priced, and I wound up purchasing two from her:  a very young female, and an adolescent male.

The female ostrich disappeared the first evening she was at the farm.  She was small and fairly defenseless, and probably wandered too far from the protection of the dogs and was gobbled up by a predator.  The male, however, did just fine.  I had him for a couple of months, and he grew big (very big) and healthy.

To understand what eventually happened with the big bird, a brief lesson on ostrich anatomy is in order.  Ostriches have two toes on each foot, a smaller toe on the outside, and a much larger on the inside position.  The big toe also has a formidable toenail.  There is a joint in the leg a foot-and-a-half or so above the foot which resembles the human knee - but it is actually an ankle joint that bends backwards - in the opposite direction of a human knee.  As ostrich attacks an enemy, it raises one of the powerful feet, and plunges forward using the deadly toe as a human might wield a knife.

That's what happened to me as I was out feeding the animals one evening.  I was scattering grain for the chickens and goats, when Mr. Ostrich suddenly got concerned that his pan was still empty.  Before I knew what was happening, the heretofore peaceful ostrich raised his foot and lunged forward right at me.  His toenail caught the collar of my shirt which ripped completely down the front - and also left a nice scratch down my chest approximately where a heart surgeon was destined to leave another scar a decade later.

The ostrich, a virgin to mortal combat, was as shocked as I was, and for a moment we just stood our ground and stared at each other.  But then my own survival instincts kicked in.  With no time for clear thinking or careful planning, I doubled my fist and socked him right in the beak.  The surprised bird turned and walked away, and I ran for the house.

From that day forward, when I went out to feed the animals, I always carried a metal garbage can lid as my Roman gladiator shield.  It kept the ostrich at bay and let me get my work done in relative safety.

The ostrich eventually ended up at the big zoo in the sky, but that's another story - one more page in the composite destined to be the total internet representation of Pa Rock.

Perhaps we'll get to it tomorrow.

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