Thursday, September 14, 2006


No, this isn't going to be one of the million blog posts about Steve Irwin's death- at least not directly. That's not to say it's not worth writing about, because I think it was sad, but I don't think I have anything left to say that hasn't been said by anyone else. What I wanted to write about were some of the effects of Steve's death.

Some people, in anger over Steve's death, have killed stingrays. I don't get this at all-- Steve was a conservationist and loved animals- even those that hurt him. I don't think there is much question among Steve's true fans as to what he'd think of stingray mutilation, and hopefully these were just a few scattered incidents.

I was a bit worried, when the news came out, that people would start to be really scared of stingrays. There have been only seventeen recorded stingray deaths worldwide, so obviously these animals are only dangerous in extremely rare circumstances. I was worried that people would shy away from stingrays, but as this article shows, there hasn't been a significant drop in the amount of people partaking in excursions such as Stingray City to swim with wild stingrays.

I'm really glad, mainly because a couple of years ago I went to Stingray City in Grand Cayman, and it was incredible. Basically, your boat goes out for about 20 minutes into the ocean, and suddenly you come along a sandbar. It's about waist-height, and the water is absolutely crystal clear and beautiful. As the boat pulls up to an area of the sandbar among other boats, you can see people out in the water, and you can see large dark blobs swimming toward the new boat. The stingrays have been conditioned; they know that a new boat means more food. We get out of the boat, and the stingrays are everywhere. They brush against your legs like cats begging for food. They're so soft and smooth, and their swimming is fluid and beautiful. The tour guides had told us a little about stingrays on the ride over, and now one of them took a stingray and picked it up to show us the different parts of the stingray (the mouth, the tail barb, etc.). If you want to feed one, the tour guides first show you how before offering you your own squid. You have to place the squid in your fist so that the top sticks out, almost like if you were gripping a pencil in your fist. You have to be sure that your thumb is down. Once you have the squid, you hold it underwater for no time at all, and a stingray will come and swim over your hand. You feel suction, almost like a vacuum, pulling the squid out of your hand and into the stingray's mouth, which is in the center of the bottom of the stingray. It was amazing to be so close and interactive with these huge and beautiful animals- the tour guides were experienced, and would hold the stingrays so that we could kiss them. The guides would ask us to turn around, and they'd lift the stingray out of the water so that he'd flap against our backs... a "stingray massage." The stingrays would swim up behind you and brush against your legs, startling you, and we were careful to try to steer clear of the tail, but I never felt in danger at all. In fact, our visit to Stingray City was probably one of my favorite parts of the cruise.

I would do it again in a heartbeat, and I'm just glad that Steve Irwin's death isn't holding many people back from experiencing these amazing animals themselves. Steve wouldn't want it any other way. :)

Monday, September 11, 2006

"american elegy"

Today's September 11, 2006- five years after the fall of the Twin Towers.

Five years ago, I was a freshman in high school, in Mrs. Swan's SRP, and I remember Mrs. Swan being pulled out by another teacher before coming back in and turning on the TV in the classroom. By that time, the first tower had been hit and the second was hit within a few minutes of us turning on the TV. I think it seemed sort of surreal to most of us, and a lot of us knew it must be a big deal but it didn't quite seem like it yet. It seemed kind of unbelievable, and everyone was surprised and buzzing about it, but I think few of us in the middle of Indiana felt a huge connection or realized what a big deal it was right away.

Before the attacks, I'd never heard of the World Trade Center or Twin Towers. I'd never been to New York, didn't know anyone who lived there, and the entire event seemed really distant. Yes, the footage and stories were terrible, but despite it being in the same country as me, things didn't "hit home." I feel sorry for people who lost loved ones or went through part of the experience, but it's hard for me to distinguish between 9/11 and traumatic events in other countries or other time periods. For a lot of people, I think 9/11 signified the first time they felt threatened here in this country- the first time we felt vulnerable. I guess, honestly, I never felt that vulnerability.

I think initially I felt as shocked as almost anyone, but the media has desensitized us to 9/11. It's not that they tried to, but there was so much media coverage, so many pictures released, so many email forwards sent out, so many television specials (there is nothing else ON tonight), so many ceremonies, even a movie... the shock has worn off. I've heard so many stories of heroism that they're no longer inspiring and amazing; rather, it's just another story among many. The videos that at first were shocking have become familiar, like an action movie replayed a thousand times and losing some of the excitement.

Sometimes I feel kind of bad for not ever getting really upset, or for not really doing anything specifically to remember 9/11 after the fact. Some people would probably see me as a terrible person, but I would rather not participate in elaborate remembrances and such if I'm not sincere. I would rather appear unsympathetic than fake sorrow. It's not that I don't appreciate the sacrifices of 9/11's heroes or the courage of those on the planes or the loss and sorrow of so many people-- it's just that, for me, 9/11 didn't affect me personally, and didn't feel real or close to me. I'm sad, but I can't feel a particular connection to the tragedy. I wonder how many other Americans have similar sentiments... and how many would admit it.